Control the Panic

How to choose an alert system that complies with Alyssa’s law and fully protect 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 gunman attacked. She immediately was shot but was still alive when the gunman moved to another room. Alyssa attempted to hide, but ultimately the gunman returned moments later, shooting her multiple times and ending her life.

With a faster emergency awareness and improved, coordinated response, the outcome of this tragedy could have changed.

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 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 have passed versions of Alyssa’s Law. Other states, like New York, Nebraska, Arizona, and Texas, are quickly following suit. Legislation was introduced at the federal level.

Top Actions Users Panic Button Should Empower You to Take
Successful emergency response, and the safety of everyone inside of school buildings, relies on more than just a system that only sends alerts. Below are four key actions a school panic button should empower its users to take.

Initiate the panic alert. Share specific emergency details from wherever you are located

A best practice is to empower teachers and staff to summon the right help from wherever they are, whether in a classroom, a bathroom, on the track field or a school bus. Mobile panic alert systems greatly help by doing just that and enabling users to directly connect with 9-1-1 and send detailed, situation-specific notifications to a custom list of recipients. These alerts—ideally sent across text message, email, voice call, and push notification—should provide the type, location and time of the incident, and who initiated the emergency.

The school’s system should confirm precisely where each user is when they initiate an incident and send alerts based on that location. This allows users to switch seamlessly between campuses without worrying about their panic button, or the signals sent out are being tied to the main office.

Provide easy access to critical school data. Stay in compliance with district policies The panic alert system should enable schools to upload, organize, and display any PDF document they need to access during an emergency, including building maps and protocol procedures. It should be customized to the school or district’s emergency response protocols, helping ensure that everyone stays in compliance with the policies and speaks the same language during an emergency.

Being in an emergency can jeopardize our abilities to think clearly and remember exactly what steps to take to keep everyone safe. Suppose the school’s protocols are readily accessible on teacher and staff members’ mobile devices or tablets. In that case, they can quickly remind themselves of their responsibilities and better protect those around them. Consider another scenario. Imagine being a police sergeant who is on your campus for the first time. When the school map is accessible on any web-enabled device, the sergeant can go exactly where he is needed without stopping and asking for directions.

Streamline response aff er initial delivery alerts. First responders and incident commanders cannot be everywhere on campus at once. The panic button 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, including students, staff , contractors and visitors, on campus. 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.

To accomplish this, the panic alert system must integrate with an accountability solution that lets teachers and staff account for anyone, not necessarily just the students on their rosters.

Summon the right help for localized incidents. Schools frequently respond to localized incidents, like an irate visitor, student fight, or flooded restroom. There is also a growing concern that schools will see an increase in violent behavior as they reopen and students return to the classroom after the pandemic.

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 Users 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.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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