It’s one of those typical Canadian winter mornings. All is calm, the heaters are on in the houses, and families are going through their frantic ways getting ready for the day. But there is something a bit special about today: It’s minus 35 outside and snowing. Most likely the buses will be canceled even though the schools are still opened for classes.

In some families, the kids will not get the news on time and will wait for their ride outside…and freeze.

Until recently communication methods were quite limited, especially in rural areas: Either the drivers had to contact each family individually or messages were sent out via the radio stations. All these methods relied on one huge element: Hope. 

Hope that people would tune in, hope that people would get the message and be able to act on it, and hope that people on the other side of the line were fluent speakers. It was one-way communication with a prayer.

Scott Partridge, the transportation director for the Red Deer Public School district thought it was time to implement a newer approach where technology can be used to help inform parents more efficiently and, if needed, engage in a 2-way conversation to make sure the information is properly received. So this year Scott will be using to manage transportation notifications.

How will it change from the current D.I.Y approach?

+ It all starts with the parents. By letting the parents self-register for the service, the district can now have access to contact information that is always up-to-date. 

+ SmartNotify also enables parents to register other people on the system (family members, sitters…) to easily share information. 

+ The team can then broadcast information from anywhere with a web connection which helps them communicate with parents regardless of the location. At a click of a button Scott can now send emails, SMS, and Phone calls (SmartNotify turns text into voice) to all the proper recipients in seconds. 

+ In the coming months, Scott will be able to select from different text-to-speech language options to better help families whose first-language is not English. 

+ Finally, the big missing piece in communication tools was the ability to close the communication loop and make sure that the information had been properly received. SmartNotify tracks responses (if someone sends a text back for example) and audit logs so that the district can quickly assess who has received the information, and when. 

Having a solid broadcast and communication plan is key to any organization, especially when working with youth. We are happy to see be part of the district’s transportation communication plan and hope we are can help kids stay warm this winter! Remember to send us your stories on how you use so we can showcase your work in a forthcoming entry.