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Notifying Parents: There's an App for That

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(AP) - Does your child need to look sharp for school photos tomorrow, or is a little white fluff in the sky going to send them home a few hours early?

Your child's school might have an app for that, thanks to a Birmingham software company.

High Ground Solutions, which produces alert and notification message systems used by schools and churches throughout the U.S., is gaining ground in the mobile application industry, as it begins making mobile applications for politicians, musicians, courts and organizations.

The firm, founded in 2005 by Timothy McCarrell, is best known for its SchoolCast, ChurchCast and RapidCast web-based software, according to Mitch Edwards, senior vice president of marketing, sales and business development for the firm.

The software can send alerts via text, phone call or e-mail to an organization's subscribers, if there is inclement weather or important information that needs immediate attention.

On Feb. 9, when Alabama got a dusting of snow, more than 1 million phone calls and hundreds of thousands of texts and e-mails were sent by clients in the state to their subscribers via High Ground software, McCarrell said.

An inspiration for High Ground Solutions came to McCarrell after he finished digging through his son's backpack to find photo day information from the school, buried at the bottom. McCarrell said sending home slips with students isn't only expensive, but inefficient.

"One of the most unreliable sources of delivering anything is an eight-year-old," he said.

McCarrell, a 20-year veteran of the software industry who serves as High Ground's chief executive, noted that schools often still deliver notes home to parents the same way they did centuries ago.

"How schools typically get information is by a backpack," he said. "And ironically, back in the 1800s, the way that they did it back then was by backpack."

And even if parents check e-mails from school during the workday, McCarrell said it can be difficult separating the important notifications from the spam sent by "Nigerian princes and Russian pharmacies." He said he wanted to create a method that allows parents throughout the day to keep up with information concerning attendance, assignments, homework and special school events.

Edwards said software like the company's SchoolCast, which he said is used by about half of Alabama's public schools, can help parents keep informed by giving them timely alerts on matters such as class attendance and lunch money balances.

But K-12 schools aren't the only ones that use High Ground Solutions software.

Auburn University worked with the company to create its own alert systems about three years ago, said Susan McCallister, associate director for public safety information and education at the university. She said Auburn uses its branded "AU ALERT" system for emergency notifications on campus such as tornado and winter weather warnings.

The alert system was also used last fall when a lab on campus experienced a chemical release. The school used it to let students know to stay away from the building as a safety precaution.

Denise Berkhalter, director of public relations for the Alabama Association of School Boards, said the association began a partnership with High Ground last year. With it, they can let members know of legislative actions on education bills, along with major court actions that they might want to know about.

"We are in a world where information on demand is sort of becoming the norm, especially with our group," Berkhalter said.

McCarrell said his company's also begun creating mobile applications and alert systems for courts, city governments and companies.

High Ground Solutions began focusing on the smartphone market more than two years ago. Soon after the 2008 elections, the company created WhipCast for GOP Congressional members to communicate with each other.

While school alert systems represent about 70 percent of the firm's business now, he expects government, church and business clients to represent about half of its business by the end of the year.