Going Above and Beyond

Tip lines and panic buttons often help schools beyond their intended purposes

Schools unfortunately have become a scary place to be, and it's hard for students to learn at their full potential when they feel so unsafe. As incidents like Parkland and Sandy Hook regrettably continue to occur across the country, schools need to have the right solutions and protocols in place to prevent these tragedies from doing unprecedented amounts of damage.

Many officials responding to school shooting incidents experienced the same setbacks when it came to interoperability and effective communication during these tragic and chaotic moments. According to information now available about Parkland, we know that multiple agencies responded but could not communicate with each other effectively-or, in some cases, at all. It took more than 20 minutes for law enforcement to access school video to see what the shooter looked like, giving him time to escape from the school and pose a threat to the greater community.

As states, cities and individual schools start to look at new safety tools to put in place ahead of the fall, many are turning to technology to get ahead of preventing threats and improving communication. However, many may wonder how, if and when the technology will be used and if it will truly bring its promised value to that school or community.

While just having a safety solution of some kind in place can bring peace of mind, the right school safety technology investments have the potential to create value through a much broader impact on communities, offering benefits outside of schools' initial goals, making them invaluable tools for schools and the community at large. Here are two examples of technologies every school should have, that often go above and beyond their original purpose.

Anonymous Tip Lines

Since Columbine happened more than 20 years ago, states across the country have put anonymous tip lines in place so that students have an option to report threats of violence without being identified by their peers.

Putting in place anonymous tip lines to prevent active shooter scenarios is a smart move by schools; according to the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, 84 percent of attackers share their plans to commit violence with at least one other person, so having a tip line increases the chances that authorities will learn about those plans before they have the chance to be put in motion.

But those who use anonymous tip lines have often seen benefits beyond school safety threats. According to an NBC report, most tip lines that were put in place to prevent school shootings have actually been used more frequently to report self-harm and suicide threats. In fact, threats against schools were actually the least reported tips.

Tip lines can give administrators an important view into what is going on in their school communities beyond just immediate safety threats. By getting insight into other situations - such as bullying, drug use, sexual harassment, hazing or other things that may otherwise have gone unnoticed - schools can appropriately address these issues, ensuring a better, safer learning environment for students.i

Panic Button Applications

Tip lines are not the only technology that can make a difference: panic buttons-associated recently with Alyssa's Law in New Jersey and Florida and similar legislation in other states that would make it mandatory for all schools to install panic alarms-can serve valuable purposes beyond just active assailant notifications.

Panic buttons reduce response times across the board, whether it be for a fire, medical emergency or active shooter scenario. By simply pressing a button, schools can activate a response, giving dispatchers their exact location and in some cases, what emergency they should expect. Panic buttons that support interoperability across various technologies can also notify key stakeholders, activate access control, digital signage, and multi-media sharing while delivering critical information to 911 and first responders.

For example, recently a student in a small school in Oklahoma was found in a bathroom having difficulties breathing. When the vice principal saw the student in distress, she quickly used a panic button mobile application to alert not only 911, but the school resource officer who was able to assist the student until the ambulance came. From medical emergencies, to alerting officials that there's a fire on campus, panic buttons can go beyond the regular active shooter situation and become a real difference maker in saving students' lives for any given emergency.

School safety is not something that society can put a price on - it's a necessity for students to learn and grow to their fullest potential. By turning to technologies that can serve multiple, beneficial purposes, schools can both take important steps to prevent violence and create better environments for their students overall with just one investment.

This article originally appeared in the May June 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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