A Panic Alert

Choosing a system that is compliant and fully protects your schools

On Valentine's Day in 2018, 14 students and three staff members lost their lives when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. More than 20 people were shot within the first 70-seconds. Alyssa Alhadeff—a 14-year-old student, passionate soccer player, and older sister to two brothers—was in one of the first rooms the shooter attacked. She was wounded immediately but was still alive when the shooter moved to another room. Alyssa attempted to hide, but the gunman returned moments later, shooting her again and ending her life. An unfortunate lesson learned following this tragedy was how a quick and coordinated emergency response could have changed the outcome of this terrible event.

Overview of Alyssa's Law
Driven by their grief and dedication to stop the unthinkable from taking another life, Alyssa's parents, Lori and Ilan Alhadeff created the Make Our Schools Safe foundation to promote Alyssa's Law.

This legislation—named after Alyssa and in honor of all school shooting victims—addresses emergency response time to critical, life-threatening school incidents. Alyssa's Law requires public and charter schools to have silent panic alert systems that link directly to first responders and law enforcement agencies.

At the time of writing, Florida and New Jersey are the only states to have passed versions of Alyssa's Law. Other states, including New York, Nebraska, Arizona and Texas, have proposed, or attempted to give versions of the law. In addition, Arkansas and Louisiana have passed similar legislation requiring schools to have panic buttons. This legislation is under review at the federal level.

Top Actions Your Panic Button Should Empower You to Take
Alyssa's Law captures solid emergency management practices. Even if you are not legally obligated to comply with Alyssa's Law in your region, following its guidelines is simply part of a well-rounded, comprehensive emergency management approach. Successful emergency response—and the safety of everyone inside of school buildings—relies on more than just a simple button that only sends an alert. It is more essential to notify the proper responders and staff, provide context to the emergency and provide details as the event progresses. Below are four key actions a school panic solution should empower its users to take.

Initiate the panic alert and share specific and contextual emergency details from wherever you are located. The best practice is to empower teachers and staff to summon the right help wherever they are, whether in a classroom, bathroom, playground or school bus. Mobile panic alert systems greatly help by doing just that and enabling users to directly connect with 911, and send detailed, situation-specific notifications to responders and district staff.

Ideally, these alerts sent via text message, email, voice call and push notification should provide the incident's type, location, time and who initiated the emergency. Additionally, rich data—including the caller’s number and precise location—automatically pushed to the 911 center so that operators and dispatchers can provide as much information as possible to first responders.

The school's alert system should allow staff to move between campuses by confirming precisely where each user is when they initiate an incident. The system should send alerts based on that specific school location. This ability to roam allows staff members to switch seamlessly between campuses without worrying about changing their panic button or the alerts.

Provide easy access to critical school data and stay in compliance with district policies. The panic alert system should enable schools to upload, organize and display any document necessary to access during an emergency, including building maps and protocol procedures. Customized to the school or district's emergency response protocols, it will help ensure that everyone stays in compliance with the policies and speaks the same language during an emergency.

Being in an emergency can jeopardize the ability to think clearly and remember what exact steps to take to keep everyone safe. If the school's protocols are readily accessible on teacher and staff members' mobile devices or tablets, they can quickly remind themselves of their responsibilities and better protect those around them.

Communicate with staff and identify the location and status of everyone on campus. First responders and incident commanders cannot be everywhere on campus at once. The panic solution should enable staff, first responders and incident commanders to communicate in real-time through group messaging.

Incident commanders and first responders also need a clear line of sight for every person on campus, including students, staff, contractors and visitors. The most powerful solutions allow them to see details of each person in the buildings, including their location, status, medical conditions and allergies. If they are students, it should also list their guardians' contact information.

In order to gain access to this critical data, the panic alert system must integrate with several platforms. These systems include the student information system, any visitor or volunteer management applications the school may use, and an accountability application that lets teachers and staff account for anyone during an emergency.

Summon the right help for localized incidents. Schools must frequently respond to localized incidents, like angry visitors, student fights or flooded restrooms. There is also a growing concern that schools will see increased violent behavior as they reopen, and students return to the classroom.

The panic button system must allow teachers and staff to summon help for localized scenarios so the appropriate personnel can respond to, identify and resolve the issue.

Fully Protect Your Buildings and Everyone Inside of Them
The most powerful panic alert software seamlessly integrates with an emergency management system that empowers schools to:

  • Practice and analyze drills
  • Summon the right help for any situation
  • Account for everyone on campus, including visitors, contractors, guardians, and volunteers
  •  Reunify students with guardians
  • Integrate with the school's visitor and volunteer management solutions

Investing in the right tools and software—like the Raptor School Safety Suite—creates the ultimate benefit: safety and peace of mind for everyone in your community. More than 35,000 K-12 U.S. schools trust Raptor to help them prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies. Raptor solutions are allowable expenses under COVID-19 ESSER Funds and numerous school safety grants.

This article originally appeared in the November / December 2021 issue of Campus Security Today.

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