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Schuylkill Bell System Handles PA Duties Too

The chiming of campus bells has taken a high-tech turn at Pennsylvania State University's 70-acre Schuylkill campus. The 1,000-student campus added a bell system that mimics the one at Old Main, the building that sits on the original site of the first Penn State university in Philadelphia. The chimes that ring out every 15 minutes across Schuylkill are actually controlled by a Technomad Schedulon playback and recording setup, which also works as the university's public address system for emergency situations.

"The Schedulon allows me to build schedules and upload audio files from my desk using its self-generated Web page," said IT Support Specialist Vince Mitchell. "The all-in-one design stood out from other systems that required multiple pieces of equipment, keeping our costs down and minimizing rack space. The system reliably plays out the schedules, and the front-panel knob simplifies manual operation."

The five-speaker system, funded with $20,000 in community donations, was initially deployed in October 2010. At the beginning of spring semester 2011 the university made changes to the deployment to separate the Schedulon audio and public address feeds from the campus' auditorium audio system.

The Schedulon is installed in a central rack room, feeding a digital processing system that distributes the audio to the public address system. It triggers the campus-wide chimes four times an hour from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with alternative schedules built-in for special events. IT staff can access the program through a password-protected Web page to edit schedules or upload new audio files.

Mitchell has also uploaded emergency notifications for manual playback. The Schedulon can serve as a digital message repeater in these situations, playing back an emergency message many times in succession.

"The main purpose of the system, as requested by our chancellor, is to establish a peaceful environment around campus," Mitchell explained. "The chimes are very soothing and they also serve as time reminders for professors and students." But, he added, "We had a scare on campus a few years ago that required a lockdown, so the campus business office required an audio playback system that could double as an emergency management system."

Recently Technomad updated Schedulon. Version 3.0 adds "down-to-the-second" scheduling, performs faster data transfers, provides for .wav file playback, and has tougher password protection, according to the company.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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