Most people who are products of the American education system could, oddly enough, tell school clock stories. Examples might include anecdotes like this one, which could have been from the high school level, “The clock in Mrs. Wilson’s room was never in sync with the rest of the school, so the bell never rang in her room when the clock said that it should. Her schedule was always messed up.”

And yet another—perfect for junior high: “Whenever the clocks and the bells went down in school, it was pandemonium. No one went to class on time. Not because we didn’t know that we should be there, but because we all knew that we could just use the excuse, ‘I didn’t know what time it was,’ and not get in trouble.”

Yes, anyone who has been there (which is most of us) knows that a highly functioning clock and bell system is vital for a smoothly running school building. But nearly every school building with a conventional mechanical clock system will run into some sort of synchronization problem every year.

The GPS wireless clock system industry claims to solve those issues.

GPS wireless clocks

A global positioning system (GPS) wireless clock system includes an on-site receiver that captures a time signal from the 24 orbiting U.S. government GPS satellites, all of which transmit time signals. The receiver sends the GPS time to a school’s on-site transmitter. The transmitter acts as a building (or campus) master clock, and it broadcasts the GPS time to battery-operated wireless clocks throughout the school—no more synchronization problems. Clocks all show the same exact time, which is as reliable as the GPS itself. An unlimited number of clocks can be installed to run on a single system.

The system operates continuously, and the clocks will automatically adjust for daylight-saving time changes. In addition, the systems are sufficiently unaffected by power outages of normal duration. In such cases, the last GPS time is stored at the onset of a power outage, and the clocks continue operating until the resumption of power, when the transmitter receives an updated time from the GPS receiver.

The same transmitter also can broadcast the correct time to a computer server, so the school computer network has the same time as the clocks. That allows each building to synchronize its daily bells with the clocks through a PC interface.

Setting an entire district’s clocks to GPS time may be extremely useful, depending on the individual district’s needs.

“One benefit could be in improved safety,” said Ronda Anderson, marketing manager for American Time & Signal Co. “If a district bus service keeps the same clocks as all of the individual buildings, then students will never be dismissed from class before the school buses arrive, just because their clocks were showing a different time.”

A GPS clock system requires no labor-consuming installation. The GPS receiver often can be mounted inside or out, as long as it has a clear view of the sky. Then, it is connected with a cable to the transmitter. Since the entire system is wireless, it can easily be moved to another location or even a new facility in the future. The cost of that portion of the system is, in many cases, roughly comparable to a hard-wired system.

The wireless clocks also are comparably priced to many mechanical clocks. Since there is no cabling to connect, they most often require no more than a tool belt and, perhaps, simple power tools to install and secure. And the absence of cabling (both power and clock system) results in a huge savings in the system’s installation cost over a mechanical hardwired system. One manufacturer estimates a savings of $10,000–$15,000 in cabling costs over installing a 50-clock hardwired system.

Clocks are available from manufacturers in multiple colors, styles and sizes and often are available with a custom logo design on the face, such as a school mascot. They are designed to be maintenance free, requiring only the replacement of long-life batteries at predetermined intervals (such as every five years).

GPS wireless clock systems are available from a variety of manufacturers, including American Time & Signal Co., BRG Wireless, Primex Wireless, Spectracom and others. Since the GPS satellite system is increasingly reaching further into our culture with no end in sight, GPS clocks may become the mainstay for schools and other organizations with similar timekeeping needs.

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.