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CMS Sues Security Company, Saying School Panic Alarms Don't Work

CMS says the Centegix system repeatedly failed.
CMS says the Centegix CrisisAlert system repeatedly failed.

Updated 6:29 p.m.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is suing an Atlanta company that sold a panic-alarm system that the district says doesn't work. The suit filed at federal court in Charlotte on Wednesday seeks a refund plus damages from Centegix, saying the company failed to deliver what it promised. 

CMS agreed to pay Centegix $1.7 million to install the system at 26 schools, including all full-sized high schools. The district paid $1.1 million of that, but superintendent Earnest Winston withheld another $600,000 in January after saying the CrisisAlert system had repeatedly failed.

Centegix has said the system works and accused Winston of political motivations in his criticism. 

A CMS spokeswoman said she could not comment on the pending lawsuit Wednesday. 

CMS Sought Panic Alert System

CMS sought proposals for the security system beginning in 2018 amid a push for better security following school shootings throughout the country, and one at Butler High School in Charlotte. Employees at the schools got special badges that were supposed to allow them to push buttons to trigger a lockdown or call for help.

But the suit alleges that the system never met Centegix's promises. In particular, the suit says, it did not live up to the company's statements that it would "let staff initiate alerts and automatically disseminate critical information quickly and reliably anywhere on school campuses, inside or outside the buildings." 

Among other things, the CMS lawsuit alleges that critical alert messages were incorrect, badges failed to work properly or at all, teacher tracking did not work, and alert beacons in the schools were poorly placed and repeatedly detached. In one incident, CMS says, an alert badge accidentally triggered a lockdown when a teacher was trying to get help break up a classroom fight. 

One potential complication in CMS's battle against the company is the way it was structured -- using a series of purchase orders instead of a written contract. But in the suit, CMS argues that under the terms of the original request for proposals, or RFP, its acceptance of the Centegix bid "constitutes a written agreement between the parties."  

Centegix Statement 

In a statement last night, Centegix said the system works as promised and that its contract with CMS requires arbitration in Georgia.  Here's the full statement:

"The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools lawsuit disregards the contract the district signed which requires arbitration of all disputes in Georgia. CENTEGIX has filed an arbitration demand in Georgia per the contract.  Contrary to what CMS alleges, the CENTEGIX system worked and protected CMS’s students and teachers on multiple occasions.   We look forward to vindicating our position in the arbitration. We remain confident the system we delivered is fully operational and meets all of the requirements of the district’s RFP.  We stand by our solution, the results of the testing conducted by district personnel, and live operational results. Our system works as promised.

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.