Providing Personal Protection for Teachers with Wearable Devices
- By Paul Shain
- September 15, 2022
In an ideal world, one touch would be all it takes for a teacher to alert school safety teams that they are in danger. However, the reality is that teachers often must be in a specific place to press a button or must remember a series of steps to activate an alert. This can mean precious seconds are wasted when time is of the essence, which can ultimately impact teacher and student safety.
With legislation like Alyssa’s Law gaining steam across the country, and more states making funds available to acquire safety solutions following tragedies like the shooting in Uvalde, campuses are looking for tools that provide quicker, more personalized methods for alerting people about emergencies. The more quickly an alert goes out, the sooner the right people can be made aware of a dangerous situation and begin sending assistance. Solutions that offer more immediate alert capabilities create safer campus environments and emphasize the priority a campus puts on safety. Teachers and staff that recognize this effort are often easier to retain, and students and parents have confidence that the campus is creating an atmosphere centered around protection. A wide array of safety technologies currently exists, but many campuses are starting to turn to wearable devices and mobile apps to solve this challenge.
Wearable devices offer several advantages for teachers trying to request assistance. These tools often take the form of an ID badge that can be worn with a lanyard. This makes them easily accessible and mobile. Whether a teacher is in their classroom, the hallway, or out on school grounds, they can send a request the moment they see an incident occur. Requests are activated by pressing discreet buttons on the badge that send preconfigured messages to school safety teams. The content of these messages is determined ahead of time to provide safety team members with the context and information they need to understand what kind of situation is taking place. Messages will also include the name of the teacher who activated the alert and their location, so team members know exactly who needs help and where they should go to assist them.
Mobile apps can offer similar functionality. By downloading an app with a preconfigured panic button to their phone, teachers can use a device they likely have with them to quickly request help. One of the advantages of using a panic button app is that it can provide additional information for the teacher pressing the button. Once the teacher has sent the request, the app can surface instructions for what they can do to stay safe—and even provide a phone number to connect directly with safety teams. Since the app is tied to the teacher’s phone, safety team members can actively track their location should the teacher need to move to a safer location due to the emergency they are encountering.
While these solutions can help enhance safety on campus, when combined with a mass notification system, wearable devices and mobile apps can become even more powerful. Mass notification systems can tie into many devices already in place on a campus—including desk phones, desktop computers, digital signage, overhead speakers, and mobile devices—to deliver text and audio messages. This creates greater flexibility for safety team members who do not need to be in their office or in front of a computer to receive a message. When a teacher triggers the panic button, it can hit multiple devices in multiple formats. That way, no matter where a safety team member is, they get the message and can begin responding. Campuses can also take advantage of a diverse number of ways to trigger alerts beyond the wearable device or mobile app. Speed dials on desk phones, physical panic buttons under a reception desk, keyboard shortcuts, and automated triggers via contact closure or monitored services like email and CAP feeds can all make it easy to send pre-configured alerts with the information people need to understand what’s happening and who needs help.
Some solutions extend the reach of those panic button requests beyond the campus to also alert 9-1-1 dispatch centers. Campuses may wish to take advantage of this for particularly serious situations, like active shooters, that require outside assistance. When a teacher triggers a panic button from their wearable device or mobile app, the alert will go to both their internal team as well as local first responders, who will receive the same information. This helps coordinate responses between campus safety teams and local law enforcement and cuts down on the time it takes for campuses to get the help they need during a crisis. This functionality also helps build relationships between campuses and local law enforcement before an event takes place. The organizations can consult on how to best deploy these types of solutions, and everyone can come to a consensus on the steps that should be taken in the event of a real emergency.
These triggers can also initiate incidents through a mass notification system that automates other processes related to a school’s emergency response plan. This can include sending text and audio messages throughout a school and to mobile devices, locking doors, and sending invites to key stakeholders to join virtual collaboration spaces. This helps quickly gather the right people to assess a situation as it unfolds and determine the best course of action. Mass notification systems with incident management capabilities also allow school safety teams to access vital resources from their desktop computer or mobile app. This could include campus maps, links to security camera feeds, or checklists. Incident management capabilities help ensure every step of a response plan is followed, and mass notification helps ensure no one misses a message when it matters most. The goal is to put campuses in the best position to resolve an incident as quickly as possible so they can organize and execute a response.
Part of resolving an incident can sometimes also include reunification, and mass notification tools are helping with this obstacle, as well. If an incident requires students and teachers to evacuate campus—or a lockdown happens suddenly—it can be difficult to know where students are and whether or not they are safe. Using a mass notification app, teachers and administrators can leverage rostering features to help account for students. Teachers can check in students and record their status, which gets passed along to administrators who can then account for their entire campus population. This can then help calm parent worries as students are reunited when the incident resolves.
While there is no magic solution to stop violent incidents from happening on campuses, technology is evolving to meet the needs of students, staff and administrators—as well as the demands of parents who want to know their children will be safe. Tools like mobile apps and wearable devices put the power of protection in the palm of a teacher’s hand, so that when urgent situations arise, requesting help is as simple as pushing a button. Ultimately, this should be what every campus strives to achieve: a minimum-effort safety solution that delivers maximum results.
This article originally appeared in the September / October 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.