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.”