Technology exists To begin the process of securing Schools, houses of worship, businesses

By Debi Davis June 3, 2019

As politicians grapple with meaningful gun control legislation and school boards try desperately to juggle dollars, school children remain at risk due to insufficient funds.

We just observed the one-year anniversary of the tragic shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. And while many safeguards have thankfully been put in place, we as a society have much to do to insure that our schools are safe for teachers, students, and administration.

While we may not be able to fully stop these senseless crimes, we can intervene quickly by using up-to-date communications systems that alert and inform students, school administrators, parents and law enforcement agencies about the situation. The technology now exists.

The continuing evolution of the cell phone and innovative apps in recent years have redefined the way we communicate. Talking with each other has been replaced by emails and texting while providing immediate access to social media platforms. It is now being adapted to protect us in schools, businesses, and houses of worship.

Thankfully, school systems nationwide are continually monitoring new security initiatives that will make their campuses safe.

Armed police offers roam the halls. Some schools have metal detectors at entrances. Others endorse arming teachers.

All of these images are frightening. Budget cuts have eliminated arts, music, and vocational training programs. These cuts also jeopardize expenditures on security measures. Relatively inexpensive options are available.

Likewise, initiatives for securing schools have been painfully slow. Keep in mind that our airports and planes appeared to be fully secured within months of the 9/11 tragedy.

The inadequacies of school communications systems became tragically apparent during the shootings last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Delayed response times and inability to effectively communicate were among the problems which are now being addressed. We’re not pointing fingers, but analysis clearly indicates that from a technological standpoint, the communications systems were antiquated resulting in significant delays in response time from law enforcement agencies.

Some of the issues included:

  • Every single 911 call went to the Coral Springs Police Department which doesn’t provide service to Parkland.
  • Dispatchers transferred these calls to the proper dispatcher, but this resulted in delays.
  • School administrators desperately tried to communicate with those in the school through the P.A. system. Few heard the announcements.
  • The “common” radio systems linking police departments failed.
  • There was an inability to locate the shooter on the sprawling campus.
  • There was no effective way to keep parents informed, resulting in crowds arriving in the vicinity of the school and additional trauma to students having lived through the event.

The one common denominator was that virtually all students and administrators were using their cell phones to text, email or post information on social media. Every single 911 call originated from a cell phone. The power of this communications platform must be harnessed and used by schools to address emergency situations as well as day-to-day situations such as hallway disturbances, plumbing malfunctions, communications with parents, and updates on classroom/club activities.

Existing app technology can today be bundled into one application that can create secure websites for the school and each class and club. Students and parents can be invited into this secure community and kept fully informed about activities, absences, and grades.

But most important is that in the event of an emergency appropriate parties – first responders, parents, students, and teachers – can be accurately informed. Keep in mind that communication, accessibility, and speed are at the heart of improved security.

These systems can be activated immediately through a cell phone app rather than requiring an administrator to take valuable minutes to walk back to the office to call first responders on a land line. Existing app technology can also accomplish the following:

  • Customize access to the proper first responders.
  • Push notification messages, which do not get lost in text or emails, can immediately be sent to the student body and teachers through this app, ordering lock downs, evacuation, etc.
  • Trusted students, teachers and administrators can be designated to activate the emergency alert codes.
  • GPS features enables first responders to know exactly where the emergency is occurring.

As we learned through the Parkland tragedy, virtually every communication was done through cell phones. We must use this tool to enhance communications so as to control a crisis situation.

Many school systems are considering the implementation of these relatively inexpensive apps. Some are lobbying their school districts, school board members, and politicians to consider these communications tools. Private and charter schools, nationwide, have covered the costs of this system through fundraisers or have prioritized budgeted funds for this important addition.

This type of communications system is part of a layered approach to securing our schools that include increased on-campus police, more security cameras, and improved secure entries. While not the total panacea, it is a start.

Debi Davis is the chief operating officer of Frandme Education, an app developer that has created a platform that enhances school security and communications. It was developed in the aftermath of the tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida