Schools in DeKalb County, Georgia, are planning to harness technology to improve safety. Starting this semester, schools across the county will add panic buttons that will alert security agencies in case of an emergency, according to Meredith Rutland of The Wall Street Journal.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut last December raised student safety concerns nationwide, and school officials in DeKalb have discussed how best to improve safety — including whether to arm teachers. On August 20, the debate intensified “when a gunman walked into an elementary school in DeKalb County, barricaded himself in the front office and fired multiple shots at police before being taken into custody.”
The panic button option is less controversial than arming teachers and at least 400 schools in a dozen states, including California to Maine, are adding these devices in the classroom.
“It’s basically a common-sense approach. Businesses have these buttons all over the place,” said Mario Civera, a county council member in Delaware County, Pa., which is installing panic buttons in its 237 schools.
The panic buttons are installed in a secret location. They are installed under desks, in school front offices or on pendants around administrators’ necks. When pressed, a panic button silently alerts local security companies or 911 dispatchers of a high-level emergency, “signaling that authorities should be sent immediately—no questions asked.”
Some panic-button systems also send text messages to administrators and announce an alert over the school’s intercom system after 911 is called. The buttons are meant for the worst type of emergencies, such as a shooting or a hostage situation, school officials say.
The panic-button systems will cost schools between $300 and $800 for each button. In Maine, 52 school districts have received a $400,000 grant from the state to install panic buttons and other measures such as systems to automatically lock school doors and secured boxes for emergency keys.
The state used an expiring Department of Homeland Security grant for this purpose. According to Bruce Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, twenty-six schools received $1,500 each for panic buttons.
This summer, a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would authorize grants to fund panic buttons and other security devices at schools nationwide was referred to a subcommittee.
“There’s a lot of interest in these things, and a lot of questions being asked,” said James Orvis, president of Security Solutions Inc. in Norwalk, Conn. His company is installing buttons at schools in a town that is two towns over from Newtown, Conn., where the Sandy Hook shootings took place. “It’s hypersensitive here compared to the rest of the country. Everyone here knows someone or is connected to someone in Newtown,” he said.