Panic button now being used in schools


HANCOCK COUNTY — Hancock County is now the first in the state to give about 1,200 teachers and administrators countywide access to a mobile panic button to report an emergency to law enforcement — particularly in the event of an active shooter.

The smartphone app created by Rave Mobile Safety is now live in the county’s four public school districts as well as in the county’s three private schools.

By pushing a button, employees are able to automatically call 9-1-1 to report an emergency while simultaneously sending a notification of the incident to law enforcement and everyone in their school building.

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Text message-like alerts pop up on the cellphones of police officers — even those who are off duty — telling them to respond to the school immediately. Loud alarms issue from teachers’ and principals’ devices, serving as both a warning to lock down and, hopefully, a means of scaring away an assailant.

It’s a necessity to combat evil that county officials say they wish they didn’t have to utilize.

But what Rave’s panic button offers is a streamlined and automatic notification process that could shave seconds off of emergency response. And in tragedies like school shootings, where young, innocent lives are at stake, seconds matter, they say.

A year ago, the county announced its partnership with Rave, a Massachusetts-based software company, and approved a five-year, roughly $58,000 contract with the software for county government and school buildings.

Since that time, John Jokantas, director of Hancock County 911, has been working with schools to implement the app and teach teachers and administrators how it works.

The app is simple to use, and that’s purposeful, Jokantas said.

All teachers need to do is load the app and hold down a button on the program’s home screen for a few seconds to initiate the emergency response.

At the 9-1-1 center, dispatchers will be able to pull up critical information — the average number of occupants and the number of floors, for example — about the building the call is coming from. The application also sends automated alerts to law enforcement across the county and on-site personnel.

Teachers who initiative the response are told to call 9-1-1 when they have the opportunity so they can provide additional information to dispatchers, such as a description of the shooter or details about what area of the building the person might be in.

From there, a second wave of alerts goes out to teachers and administrators at other school districts so that they, too, can take action to protect their own students, whether it’s getting kids off the playground or going into lockdown.

The technology of the app allows for it to work 24/7 on school property but never when a user is away from building, Jokantas said. He believes there is little chance of the app being set off accidentally; but if that were to occur, he has worked with the school districts to establish double-check procedures.

The panic button can be used in other emergencies, as well; and school district leaders say its presence in their buildings has already helped them streamline communication in those situations.

When users pull up the app on their smartphone, they have five emergency options to choose from: active shooter, fire, medical, police and other.

There’s also the option to call for a staff assist, which doesn’t activate a 9-1-1 call but alerts other staff members that help is needed.

This means the app can be used by teachers to quickly alert principals and district administrators to something as simple as a bad injury on the playground that might require an ambulance to be called, said Wes Anderson, the communications director for Southern Hancock Schools.

In the past, these situations would have been handled by a series of radio calls for help to the school’s main office followed by a telephone call later to the district’s headquarters to report what occurred. Now, with just the push of a button, teachers can notify paramedics and simultaneously alert their colleagues at all levels to what’s going on, he said.

“Regardless of the situation, getting first-responders to us quickly is the priority,” Anderson said.

Planning for emergencies, talking with teachers and administrators about what to do if tragedy strikes, isn’t easy, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the chief deputy of the county sheriff’s department, who regularly gives active-shooter preparedness training to local schools, businesses and churches.

The new panic button has been incorporated into those conversations, and teachers seem to be thankful to have it as a tool, he said. They know their quick action in these situations matters. And in the end, like those who brought the program to the county, want to protect as many people as possible.