Why every second matters in a school emergency


In 1968, the three-digit phone number 911 was established to provide everyone in the United states with a universal number to use to contact first responders in case of an emergency. While early adoption was slow, according to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), by the end of the 20th century, almost 93% of the population had access to the service.

While calling 911 in an emergency is a vital resource, there is one way in which it can fall short. Some emergency situations are so critical, every single second lost in response time is critical. At those times, the loss of an additional minute can be measured in many more lives lost as well. In a situation like this, it simply takes too long from the moment when the emergency is reported via 911 until the moment officers arrive on the scene.

To illustrate this, consider that a 2020 NSSPA (National Safety Security Protection Association) study showed that the average school shooting lasts 8 minutes from beginning to end. The incident at Parkland lasted less than six minutes, during which time 17 individuals were fatally shot and 17 others wounded. The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School fatally shot 26 people in 12 minutes, and likely would have continued had first responders not arrived on the scene at that time.

Compare these timelines to the fact that, according to the National Sheriffs’ Association, the average police response time to a 911 call is 18 minutes – and it becomes crystal clear that a better way is needed.

The problem is compounded by the fact that active shooter events are chaotic in nature. Typically, shooters move from room to room and hallway to hallway around the school. They could even move between buildings, or from interior to exterior areas. Because of this, even if a 911 call includes specific information about their whereabouts, it will have changed by the time police arrive at the school. This leaves responders with tremendous uncertainty about where to enter and where to go first. Even in a small school, not knowing where to find the shooter could result in many additional lives being lost. It could also put the first responders at much greater risk if they do not know where the shooter is located.

Neutralizing a shooter is not the only job of first responders. Wounded students and staff members need immediate attention to reduce loss of life. The faster they can be reached, the better the outcome will be for them. The location of any injured individuals is vital information that must also be communicated to police and medical personnel arriving at the scene of an incident. The best way to save time in a school emergency is to alert first responders using a dedicated app or panic button that communicates directly with the closest police precinct. This way, officers will receive instant notification that a shooting is in progress at the school. Such a mechanism is so important that it has been mandated by Alyssa’s Law in New Jersey and Florida, with legislation pending in additional states.

The ability to alert officials immediately of an active shooter is vital, but it is only a first step in saving critical minutes. Ideally, your app or panic button will be part of a software application that provides a wealth of information to responders. At a minimum, this would include what type of emergency it is – an active shooter, a bomb threat, a student threatening self-harm or another type of emergency – along with contact information for the individual who reported the event, so that responders can communicate with them directly.

As they approach the school facility, police will benefit greatly from information concerning the layout of the school including a full floor plan. At the same time, they should be provided with live camera views of every surveillance camera on the premises with associated map information indicating where that camera is located on the floorplan. Together, this will inform them of the location of the shooter as well as which entrance to use to approach and neutralize them as quickly as possible. The ability to unlock or lock doors through the app is a critical element of this capability.

Speaking directly to an active shooter can disrupt their progress and potentially save additional lives as first responders are approaching the scene. The best panic button app will have the ability to integrate with the school’s PA system to accomplish this as well.

There is much discussion surrounding the best ways to put an end to the tragedy of school shootings. However, until a solution is found, the best approach to minimizing harm is to enable the fastest possible response, while giving responders as much useful information as is feasible. A notification app that provides this will speed entry time, aid in locating the suspect, and provide first responders with critical tactical high ground in any crisis.

This perspective is shared by The National Sheriffs’ Association. “The importance of short notification times in these situations cannot be overstated. Shaving even seconds off the notification and response times can result in vastly different outcomes in these situations.”


The Best Emergency System Makes School a Safer Place


For many parents, teachers, and students right now, anxiety about the global Covid-19 pandemic has eclipsed other worries about the risks related to going to school each day. Whether you are learning and teaching remotely or attending school in an actual facility – or dealing with having kids at home all day while juggling other jobs – for the most part, school shootings may not be the biggest school-related concern on your mind at this moment. However, there will come at time once again when students and teachers will be back in their classrooms every school day. If we are fortunate, it will be within the 2020-2021 school year; if not, students will surely be back in class by Fall 2021. When that time comes, we will once again have to consider the possibility that another school shooting will occur.

Most Americans are aware of the most highly publicized incidents that have occurred in the years since Columbine, when mass shootings at school reached our consciousness. News stories of similar incidents with significant loss of life have since become a tragic media staple. However, the data on school shootings includes dozens of firearm deaths that happen on school property and never go beyond small local news stories. Every one of these incidents is tragic to the people whose lives it destroys.

Download now: Ten-Step Guide to Safer Schools

It is essential to take every step possible to prevent a school shooting. There has, and will continue to be, much discussion of how to handle kids who demonstrate mental or emotional issues, what kind of police or security presence should be on school premises, and whether teachers should be armed. With all of that, there are many additional tactics that can and should be used by all schools that will help to prepare for and prevent harm.

Building an active shooter security plan requires a layered security program. This includes risk prevention, identification of threats, response to incidents in progress and communication with first responders. One of the key elements of this program is the deployment of an emergency alert and communications system. When a shooter is on school premises, first responders need information fast. Poor communications magnifies the potential for injury and loss of life. Officers need to know where the shooter is located, right down to the building, floor and room. They need to know which door to use to get them where they’re going the fastest.

Every school should have an emergency system in place to enable fast and seamless notification and communications with local police departments. There are many such systems on the market today, so making the right choice can be confusing. To find the best alert and communication system for schools, look for these features:

  • Gun/firearm detection and notification

  • Notification via mobile app or panic button
  • Live views from school surveillance cameras and cell phone video
  • School maps that show responders where to go first
  • Remote door locking and unlocking
  • PA system integration to speak directly to assailant
  • Automatic notification to school personnel via text or email

Your emergency alert and communications system should integrate directly with a corresponding system in place in your local police agency. This way everyone will be familiar with the software and its use, and your school can work together with responders to ensure all stakeholders are properly trained in its use. This will help minimize risk and save lives in an actual emergency situation.


Creating a safer space at school will also have the benefit of providing greater peace of mind for students, teachers, staff and parents. When students and teachers feel more confident of their security, they are free to focus on teaching and learning. Discover nine additional steps you can take to fully prepare your school for the possibility of risk. By implementing all ten, you can take meaningful action by helping to keep students, staff, and visitors safe while at school, and by creating a better environment for learning.


Coral Springs Police Department Deploys Life-Saving Technology Through School Safety Grant


The Coral Springs Police Department is located in the City of Coral Springs, Florida. On February 14, 2018, officers from the agency were among those who responded to the active shooter event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 3 miles away from the department, in which a gunman killed 14 students and three staff members at the school.


Officers responding to the 911 call experienced many shortfalls in communications. Arriving at the school, some officers did not know whether the shooter was still on the premises, or if there was more than one shooter involved. Once inside the building, they did not have any information about where the injured individuals were located. Upon discovering that they did not have proper radio service, some officers were forced to resort to yelling from floor to floor in order to communicate between themselves. At the same time, school officials watching video feeds of the school hallways did not realize that because school surveillance video was on a delay, they were actually viewing footage from several minutes earlier rather than in real time, giving them false information about what was happening at that moment.

All of these issues contributed to the chaotic nature of the response, and undoubtedly exacerbated the severity of the incident, leading to more lives being lost. Recognizing the need for a better method of informing, communicating and alerting during an incident, Coral Springs was receptive to learning about the new technology being made available through School Safety Grant. “February 14, 2018 was the day that changed the communities of Parkland and Coral Springs forever”, said Clyde Parry, Chief of Police for the Coral Springs Police Department. “That was the day when an unthinkable act of violence shattered the tranquility of our peaceful community. Since that day, our city’s focus, and our police department’s focus, has been to make schools as safe as possible.”


Through a grant from School Safety Grant, the ALERT software was installed at the Coral Springs Real-Time Crime Center. ALERT gives first responders a single control platform enabling them to view camera feeds in real time, along with maps and images of the physical environment (both from outside and inside the facility). Using the software, the Center can also control door locks and the fire alarm systems, and use the PA systems to speak directly to the assailant and others at the scene. The ALERT software provides the communications connections between the system at the Coral Springs Police Department and the systems installed at the Coral Springs Charter School and the Chabad of Coral Springs, both of which were also awarded grants from School Safety Grant. “With the ALERT program, we’re immediately notified of an emergency or a serious incident,” said Chief Parry.

“Video feeds allow us to view the incident in real time and provide instant, more importantly, accurate intelligence to the officers that are responding to that incident.” Inside the Real-Time Crime Center, the ALERT overview map shows all the assets or sites around the city that are in partnership with the program. When a panic button is alerted at the Charter School or Chabad, either via the app or via a hard-wired panic button, it starts to set off strobes and alarms in the facility, while simultaneously alerting staff of the emergency. Coral Springs’ trained personnel get an overview of the site and can see where the emergency is in real time. Map icons provide law enforcement officers with up-to-date information. By scrolling over one of the camera icons, they can see a camera and its view in real time. It is easy to quickly and easily circle through the different cameras on the site, enabling officers to see information in real time, while also following a potential suspect or other piece of information throughout the site.

By clicking on one of the door icons, the user can remotely unlock doors, allowing first responders to enter the closest door to the suspect without worrying about the need to find an open entrance. They can pull up a multi-view of cameras by clicking the load layouts button. Selecting a camera and right-clicking locates the camera on the map. Inside each room, a right-click pulls up a still panoramic shot providing information about the interior of this site. This is important because it helps to direct law enforcement personnel directly to the need, and it also allows personnel to have an inside view of each classroom or storage room. Through the existing PA system in the school, trained dispatchers can speak directly to the suspect, to the students, and to the faculties and officers on site. There is also a text-to-speech option, enabling fast translation of PA messages to students and other individuals in the building. “Collectively, these features provide officers and other first responders with a critical improvement in the information that they receive, helping them to respond in the most efficient and effective manner possible when seconds matter most,” said Alexander Falcone, Director of Emergency Management and City of Security for the City of Coral Springs.


Alyssa’s Law Mobile Alarm App for Schools


On June 29, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Alyssa’s Law SB 70 into state law. By the 2021-2022 school year, every public school in Florida must have an approved silent alarm system in place. By mandate, the alarm must be directly connected to local law enforcement to alert them when there is an emergency. Alyssa’s Law has already been passed in New Jersey; it is currently in committee in New York and has been introduced in Nebraska. The passage of the law in Florida is especially meaningful. It was named for Alyssa Alhadeff, who was killed along with 16 others on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Benefits of Silent Alarms

Installing a silent alarm for schools increases the safety of students, staff and visitors every day. Parents and families of students and staff experience greater peace of mind knowing that their loved ones are better protected while they are at school. Students may demonstrate increased focus and attention in class with the knowledge that their school has a mobile app that will connect them directly with local law enforcement agencies in an emergency.

Panic Button for Schools

Also referred to as a panic button, a silent alarm puts the ability to instantly alert law enforcement into the hands of every individual carrying a smartphone. The user can simply tap to report a school shooting or other incident in progress. The app automatically notifies authorities with the user’s physical location and profile. Any medical information and emergency contacts associated with their profile are also automatically transmitted. Additional integrations further speed response and provide first responders with vital information about the scene.

Seconds count in an emergency

The average active shooter scenario lasts only 600 seconds. In that brief ten minutes, one school shooter can end the lives of many students, teachers and administrators. It is vitally important to shorten the response time for law enforcement when an active shooter is on the premises. With each second so valuable, schools cannot waste time – they need to act as quickly as possible. It has been well documented that communications shortfalls have caused delays during incidents that have cost lives. A mobile app for school shootings can help to reduce the time it takes for first responders to reach the scene and take action.

Providing Vital Information to First Responders

The best silent alarm app for schools does more than just alert law enforcement of an incident in progress. The more information you can deliver to responders, the better equipped they will be to minimize the damage, injuries and loss of life. For example, the integration of e-mapping technology can greatly aid law enforcement in their response as they approach the school. Using interactive campus maps with photographs of specific architectural details, they can identify the precise location of the shooter and move more quickly to end the incident.

Additionally, access to live cameras on demand helps responders assess the situation in real time and make tactical adjustments as needed in the moment. Officers en route to the school can receive specific information and images showing which door to use to enter the facility. That door can be remotely opened as part of remote door lock and unlock capabilities which restrict the movements of the shooter while enabling responders to move rapidly wherever needed throughout the facility.

There is even technology that can detect the presence of a firearm before a single shot is fired and automatically notify law enforcement for rapid response. And with a silent alarm app integrated with the school’s PA system, it is possible to make campus-wide announcements to alert students and teachers, while potentially deescalating the situation through direct communication with the shooter.

Don’t wait for a tragedy to occur

Alyssa’s Law, or another law with similar objectives, is likely to be signed in every state in the future as we work to put an end to school shootings. Schools should not delay in installing the life-saving technology of a silent alarm or panic button system. And while some states may allocate specific funding towards purchasing and deploying this technology, grants like School Safety Grant make it possible for every school in the country to act immediately. The parents who have experienced this immense tragedy know too well how important it is not to wait.

Learn how School Safety Grant can help keep your students safe.