For the past nearly 39 years, I have been in the public safety sector: 34 years in law enforcement and the past 5 years in the school safety sector (both public and private). During that time I have looked to solve the actual problem of school safety, and have been looking at this from a holistic perspective. This is how I looked at the panic buttons when they came into vogue after the Parkland High School tragedy.
Panic buttons have been around for years. So what is the big deal and why now? I have to be honest, I was not a real fan of them until recently. Let me tell you why. Panic buttons are believed to be the answer to our safety problems. We believe that if we push the panic button, everything will be taken care of and we will all be safe. The reality is that panic buttons have some very limiting factors: they are limited to triggering a call for help and sending an alert for a specific type of situation; they lack the specificity of what is going on and what is needed to resolve the situation; they limit the ability to communicate with the sender of the “panic” to learn what is going on or if they have specific needs. It has been my experience that it was an all-or-nothing scenario. We all know there is much more to responding to and managing an emergency than just pressing a panic button and waiting for someone to come save us. If you don’t understand that, then please visit our podcast and blog series; Coffee with Kelly; A Discussion on School Safety. In addition to notifying first responders, we have to get people to a safe place; we have to attend to those who were injured; we have to account for our students and staff; we have to communicate with them and the parents of those affected by the incident; etc.
So if we have to do all of this and the panic button has its limitations, why did I come around? There are many reasons why I came around to accepting the panic button as a “viable” option. First, let me be perfectly clear; a panic button is NOT a complete solution, but it does fit into being the first step for a complete solution when tragedy comes knocking at our doors. So here are the primary reasons we should look at panic buttons as part of our overall solution:
There are now panic buttons for all levels of participation:
Ah Ha Moment: We now have a panic button for every level of participation. From the support staff to the teachers, to the safety team, to the bus drivers, everyone is now covered. While I believe Alyssa’s Law is needed, it falls a little short of what is necessary to have a complete solution. That being said, with the new technology available to us, we can provide a solution to meet everyone’s requirements and still be Alyssa’s Law compliant.
Trigger: Understanding the purpose and functionality of panic buttons is important for us. With the exception of some of the apps available, the traditional panic buttons are a simple “button” that alerts people of an emergency. In the current context of Alyssa’s Law, this button is required to alert people of the emergency, connect directly to 9-1-1, and give the sender’s location. But that only solves part of the problem. As we press the panic button, we have to ask ourselves what do we have to do next? This is where the integration of the applications and the correct panic buttons can add a significantly higher level of value to the panic button market. After pressing the button, we still have many tasks that need to be completed: EPA, two-way communication, accounting for students and staff, providing updates, passing on instructions and next steps to staff, checking on the status of those involved, reunification, etc. In these cases, the panic button is more like the triggering device than it is an emergency solution to make us safer. It reduces the time to notify first responders, but doesn’t assist with all the other emergency tasks that we are required to complete. The current solution allows us to accomplish all of those additional necessary tasks.