Time was, parents and students had to wait for television or radio broadcasts to find out whether or not classes would be canceled due to inclement weather.
Today, many school systems utilize automated notification services, which allow school officials to send messages about school cancellations or other issues to parents virtually instantly.
"Our system is called SchoolMessenger," said Shawn Gobert, school safety officer for Greencastle Community Schools.
Each building in the Greencastle district can have customized lists for messaging. For instance, lists can be broken down by individual grade levels, athletic teams, all students in one building, all staff members or all students and staff in the district.
"The person creating the message accesses the SchoolMessenger Web site," Gobert explained. "We have SchoolMessenger call us, then we record the message. We then set the details such as what lists get called, what time the call should go out, etc. We have options to ignore duplicate phone numbers so a family with four kids doesn't get each number called four times."
Greencastle's system is used for emergencies, but is also intended to be used for general reminders and non-emergency information.
"We pay a flat rate for the service," Gobert said. "We do not have to pay any additional money per use."
Parents of students in the Greencastle school system also have the option to sign up for e-mail alerts. E-mails do not include the information in the actual recorded message; they simply let parents know a message will be coming to their phone and they should listen to it.
"They recently came out with an upgrade which allows the option of sending information via text," Gobert said. "We are just now exploring what that process entails and considering whether or not to send information in that manner as well."
When the decision was made for Greencastle Schools to operate on a two-hour delay Tuesday, the system was quickly put into use.
"To call every student and parent (Tuesday) morning, (the system) made its first attempt to call students and parents at 5:14 a.m. and had made an initial attempt to call 2,657 numbers by 5:26 a.m.," Gobert said. "It finished calling all available numbers for students and staff members by 6:10 a.m. -- which includes making up to four attempts to contact people who did not answer their first call.
"It also sent 1,848 e-mails during that same time period," Gobert continued. "In the end, 94.31 percent of the people were contacted. Understand that people who are not contacted are typically the result of phones being disconnected or people simply not answering the phone."
Gobert stressed that the school needs current phone numbers for all students to keep the system running smoothly.
"It's very important for parents to remember to inform the school any time they get a new phone number or cancel an existing phone," he said.
The North Putnam Community School systems use the Honeywell information system to notify parents, staff and community members of important corporation announcements such as school delays and closings.
According to North Putnam Superintendent Dr. Mary Lovejoy, the corporation has sent out announcements for H1N1, board meetings, work sessions for the community as well as school delays and cancellations.
Individual schools also use the announcement system to let parents and staff know about athletic or special events that are coming up or that may cancelled. These may include school programs or general information announcements from that particular school.
This is the first year South Putnam School Corporation has used its Honeywell information system. It provides the schools a number of ways to communicate with parents or guardians.
"It's been a great system," said South Putnam Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt.
When a message is necessary, Bernhardt calls a voice line and records the outgoing message. He then goes online to Honeywell's secure site and types the message to be sent via e-mail or text message.
Aside from school delays or closings, Bernhardt said the system could be used to notify parents of a lockdown or general information about upcoming events.
"Parents can choose which messages to receive," he said.
When parents sign up to receive messages through the Honeywell system, they can choose e-mail, text message or phone call; they can use a cell phone, home or work phone number; and they can choose from emergency messages only to general information.
"We have had a lot of positive feedback from the parents," he added.
In addition to South Putnam, Cloverdale School Corporation uses the Honeywell information system.
"We try to use it as little as possible, so we don't bother parents while they are working," said Cloverdale Superintendent Carrie Milner.
But the school system utilizes Honeywell if there is an emergency, school delay or closing or change in an athletic event. Milner said it is a useful tool to keep communication open with parents or guardians.
"This is our second year of using Honeywell," she said.
School delay, closing and emergency information is also available through the Banner Graphic Web site (www.bannergraphic.com). Readers can subscribe to receive text messages for specific school systems.
Banner readers can also receive text alerts of breaking news, sports scores, weather and various other categories.