CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Nexstar) — School districts are increasingly turning to technology for an added layer of protection on their campuses.
“I don’t know if you can ever say you did enough, you know, especially when you’re talking about student safety,” James McDonald with Boyd ISD said. “It’s a constantly evolving program.”
McDonald says when his district, which has just more than 1,300 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, updated their school safety measures, several components came to mind. Their buildings have cameras, educators are trained in mental health first aid and they also have a school resource officer. Investing in Share911, he says, was to implement safety communications.
“Fortunately, we’ve been blessed for only having to use it for our training purposes right now,” he said. “We had an extensive time in the fall training our staff over using Share911.”
“The simpler you can keep it, that makes it easier for them to adapt and make it become a habit,” he said.
Share911 is a mobile and desktop-enabled program which allows people inside a school to share information with first responders. They can report whether they need security, if there’s a threat nearby, fire or smoke, medical emergency or other secure options. Districts can tailor alerts to fit their needs, so all campuses use the same language when reporting an incident, CEO Erik Endress said.
Endress, who serves as a volunteer firefighter in New Jersey and has experience with technology, said he saw the need to form a program like this where response times are minimized.
“When our system’s activated, not only do they notify their co-workers, they’re also notifying police who also have this on their own phone in the car,” he said.
Programs like Share911 were on display at the Texas School Safety Conference in Corpus Christi. Other districts like Texas City ISD have also turned to interoperable communications programs. Texas City ISD uses Mutualink and the Rave Panic Button app. Executive Director of Security and School Safety Michael Matranga says he has seen the effectiveness through training and one false alarm incident.
“One teacher pushed the button and within under a minute-and-a-half, we had seven deputies on scene already,” he said.
The Rave Panic Button app has six different options, such as fire, active shooter and medical. There’s also an anonymous tip texting option and a program called Rave 911, which facilitates communication to all school staff via text or email.
“In these situations time is the enemy, so what the panic button does is it condenses the time to reach 911, for 911 to get first responders there, to notify ISD police and to apprehend the threat and to look after the people who are potentially injured,” said Brian O’Donnell, of Rave Mobile Safety.
Mutualink helps law enforcement agencies and districts share radio, voice and other data across their entities.
“We have a console that sits inside an administrator’s office so in case of an emergency, that administrator can view the video and share it out with any of the first responders,” added Anthony Ferguson, solutions representative with Mutualink.
Texas City ISD’s interoperable communications system is in addition to its facial recognition and 19 deputies through the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office who work for 14 campuses. The district also added FirstNet through AT&T, which is a law-enforcement designated network.
“We’re separate from a commercial or civilian network so that when we have an issue, we know that our communications are going to work,” Matranga said.
Matranga, who champions technology in the school safety conversation, says he hopes as more companies bring new products onto the market, they keep in mind the budget constraints most districts must work with and what students’ needs are.
“Keep in mind that these are school, taxpayer-funded programs,” he said. “I’ve seen time and time again where companies come in with a great product, but it will never sell because it’s priced outside of the K-12 market.”
Senate Bill 11 and the supplemental budget lawmakers passed this legislative session sets aside funds for safety infrastructure and extra security. The funds can also be used for buying security cameras and other technology like communications systems or devices.