Help With the Push of a Button

Why more schools are looking to panic button technology

It was the second day of this school year, when an administrator in Montgomery County, TX, found herself needing to manage a student’s medical emergency on the football field after hours. A junior high school student was experiencing chest pains and needed immediate care.

The administrator got out her phone, opened up an app and within seconds hit a mobile panic button, immediately alerting 9-1-1, first responders and other security staff of the issue. EMS swiftly arrived and transported the student to a nearby hospital. The student made a full recovery.

Emergencies happen when and where we least expect them to. Preparedness is key. Tools like panic button technology can ensure school administrators, teachers and athletic staff are never caught without the ability to quickly ask for help, in order to keep their students safer.

Andrea Shepard, associate director at the Montgomery County Emergency Communication District, was not surprised by this panic button push so early in the school year. Shepard’s agency oversees 9-1-1 communications for the county and recognized that panic button technology could be a game changer for both school and public safety staff, enabling better collaboration when schools face emergencies like medical issues, fights and safety concerns.

Andrea went to the head of her 9-1-1 agency, local first responder agencies and education officials to propose that the county deploy panic button technology. As of January 2023, the county’s 130 schools within the Conroe, Magnolia, Montgomery, New Caney, Splendora and Willis school districts now have access to panic button technology that enables quick and efficient communication should any of their 124,000 K-12 students or staff experience an emergency.

In recent months, Shepard has counseled other Texas education and 9-1-1 leaders researching panic button technology. The state recently made billions of dollars in grants available to schools to increase their safety measures and the governor signed Alyssa’s Law into legislation, which will require panic button alert systems in all Texas schools by the start of the 2025-2026 school year.

The quest to empower school administrators, teachers and staff to quickly contact 9-1-1 and bring in first responders during emergencies is not limited to Texas. Fueled by rising school safety threats, as well as new funding streams and legislative mandates, 9-1-1 and school officials across the nation are increasingly coming together in the spirit of communication and collaboration to benefit students.

By September, the number of campus shootings in the United States had already reached a new high. Yet active assailant threats are not the only - nor primary - safety issue panic buttons are activated.

Nearly one-third of middle schoolers have been bullied, more students and educational staff are voicing concerns about mental health than ever before and teachers report a marked increase in violence between students and staff.

Those closest to students – their parents and teachers – are worried about school safety issues. According to new research, at least 67% of parents and teachers are much more concerned about school safety now than they were five years ago. That same research shows that parents rank panic button apps as the one school safety technology they would most like to see used at their child’s school.

The sobering fact, however, is that more than half of parents say that despite the well-documented rise in school violence, they have not seen new safety technologies put in place. There is work to be done.

For those looking to understand how panic button technology can support your school district or campus, while powering faster collaboration between school personnel, 9-1-1 and first responders, consider a few key features:

Facility mapping. School administrators can upload site maps and floor plans that first responders can access when a panic button is pushed, saving time and eliminating navigational issues.

Staff support. Schools can upload an easy-to-access repository of safety procedures and emergency protocols for staff to have at their fingertips. School employees can also use a Staff Assist feature to communicate with colleagues onsite when emergencies do not warrant a 9-1-1 intervention.

Status checks. When a panic button is hit, 9-1-1 professionals, school staff or first responders can initiate status checks that ask those in the impacted area to mark themselves as safe or in need of help. First responders can then triage responses and concentrate their efforts on those most in need.

Smart connections. Panic button technology can connect with mass notification systems to send timely alerts about sheltering in place or staying away from the school via text, digital signage, websites, public address systems, sirens and landline phones. It can also be set up to automatically trigger video cameras inside and outside school buildings, access control systems and other safety tech to perform various tasks to improve safety results.

Working closely with public safety leaders at the federal, state and local level and educators in primary, secondary and college institutions over the past 20 years has been a tremendous learning experience. Educational and emergency response authorities need to be in lockstep from the beginning when it comes to school safety. Students, staff and society, as a whole, deserve some peace of mind when it comes to school safety. While technology is not the sole solution to growing challenges, it does play a key role in identifying issues and fostering collaboration when seconds matter.

For many schools, panic button technologies, in particular, are instrumental to helping staff work with public safety staff to optimize safety outcomes and keep their school a safe place for students to learn and grow.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Campus Security Today.

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