Panic Alarms on Campus: What’s Being Implemented and How the Technology Is Performing

CS’ panic alarm survey covers how the technology being used, why it’s being acquired, when systems are activated most and more.

Panic Alarms on Campus: What’s Being Implemented and How the Technology Is Performing

Image via Adobe, by Kiattisak

A bank teller being held up by an intruder pushes a hidden button that activates a silent panic alarm notifying the police that a robbery is taking place. 

An elderly person who has fallen in their home and can’t get up presses the button on the pendant they are wearing to summon for help from local EMS.

These are the two situations that likely come to mind when most people think of panic buttons. But these two types of emergencies are just a couple of the many applications for this technology, according to the 2023 Campus Safety Panic Alarm and Mobile Duress System/App Survey.


The high rate of workplace violence at hospitals, as well as the 2018 Parkland mass shooting that prompted the passage of Alyssa’s Law in several states, are just some of the reasons K-12 schools, districts, colleges, universities, and healthcare facilities have adopted some type of panic alarm or mobile duress system or app.

So just how often is this technology used in schools, institutions of higher education, and hospitals? Why are panic buttons and mobile duress systems being acquired? When are these alarms most often activated? And finally, how well is this technology working?

Read on to find out.

Fixed Panic Buttons Most Commonly Used

Fixed panic buttons/alarm systems are the technologies most often deployed in schools, colleges, universities, and healthcare facilities. Two out of three of our survey participants (66%) said they have this type of system, and 22% said they are considering adding more or buying this technology as new in the next two years.

Mobile phone apps used for panic alarms and emergency communications are the second most popular technology used by survey participants: 58% already have this technology, and 22% said they are considering adding more or getting this technology in the next two years. At 59%, higher education respondents were the most likely to say they have mobile phone apps, followed by K-12 respondents (58%) and healthcare respondents (50%).

Two out of five respondents (40%) said they have mobile panic buttons/pendant alarm systems. More than one in four (26%) said they are considering buying more or buying this type of technology for the first time.

Although call boxes aren’t normally considered panic alarm devices, they can be used as such in some cases, particularly in parking lots and outdoor locations. Because of this, we included call boxes in a portion of this survey. Our survey found that 45% of all respondents have call boxes, but the percentages are highly dependent on campus type. At 71% and 70%, respectively, higher education and healthcare respondents are much more likely to have this technology on their campuses, compared to only 23% of K-12 schools or districts.

Survey participants were also given the option to list other technologies their campus communities can use to call for help. The most common technologies mentioned included landline phones where staff members can dial a code or press an emergency button; two-way radios; fire alarms; gunshot detection systems; weapons detection systems; intercoms/PAs; emergency notification systems; and video surveillance cameras.

Motivations for Upgrades Vary by Campus Type

When we asked what motivated survey participants to purchase a panic alarm/mobile duress system or app, at 35%, the most popular answer was, “Nothing in particular. We just want to improve safety and security on campus.” However, the most cited reasons varied significantly by campus type. Only institutions of higher education actually cited this reason as their primary purchasing motivation (44%).

For healthcare facilities, the most cited reason was, “Recent incident(s) that occurred on my campus or institution.” This finding isn’t surprising considering the incredibly high rate of workplace violence that hospitals and other healthcare facilities experience.

At 36%, “Recent incident(s) that happened in other parts of the country” was the most popular reason cited by K-12 respondents, probably in response to the May 2022 Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. That percentage was 33 in healthcare but only 16 for higher education.

“Local, state, or federal laws or mandates” were cited as reasons by 23% of K-12 participants, probably due to the passage of Alyssa’s Law in their states. Comparatively, only 7% of colleges and universities and 4% of healthcare facilities cited local, state, or federal laws or mandates as the reason for their upgrades.

Many of the “Other” comments indicated quite a few participants have had their panic alarm/mobile duress systems for several years.

Although nearly two-thirds of our survey respondents (66%) already have a panic alarm or mobile duress system or app, of the respondents who don’t have a system, nearly half said they can’t afford it. More than one in four (26%) said they plan on getting one eventually but haven’t done the research. Sixteen percent said they lack support from management, staff, and/or the community, and 12% said they don’t need it.

Medical Emergencies, Patients/Visitors Acting Out Prompt Most Panic Alarm Activations

Although schools and colleges activate their panic alarms most often for medical emergencies, these types of incidents are only the sixth most common reason for activations at hospitals. In healthcare, patients acting out and visitors acting out are the situations when panic alarms/mobile duress systems/apps are activated most often.

Mental health emergencies rank No. 3 in hospitals and No. 4 in colleges and universities but don’t even make the top ten in K-12 schools.

Interestingly, although bullying is considered by most school officials to be a big problem for their students, it’s an issue that does not prompt many panic button activations. That issue also doesn’t even make the top ten for K-12 schools. Bullying, however, does rank No. 7 in hospitals as far as panic alarm activations are concerned.

Active shooters and students acting out rank No. 2 and 3, respectively, for K-12 schools, while students acting out and visitors acting out rank No. 2 and 3, respectively, in higher education. Weather emergencies rank No. 7 for K-12 campuses/districts, No. 8 for healthcare facilities, and No. 9 for colleges and universities.

Overall, 19% of respondents listed “Other” situations as the most common reasons for system activation. Most of those other situations were false alarms, followed by drills.

On-Campus Police, Security Most Likely to Receive Activation Notifications

Overall, on-campus law enforcement or security personnel are the individuals or job titles/departments that most often initially receive notification when a panic alarm or mobile duress system/app is activated (63%), followed by safety team members (33%). However, when broken down by sector, safety teams are No. 3 for K-12 schools and healthcare facilities but only No. 6 for colleges and universities.

Campus emergency operations centers are No. 2 for higher education and hospitals but only No. 10 for K-12 schools. Emergency management staff is in position No. 4 for colleges, universities, and healthcare facilities, but No. 7 for K-12 campuses and districts. Off-campus call centers or central stations are No. 3 for higher education, No. 5 for healthcare, and No. 9 for K-12. Understandably, school principals are the second most likely persons to be notified when a panic alarm or mobile duress system or app is activated at a K-12 school… right behind on-campus law enforcement or security personnel.


Most Respondents Satisfied with Their Panic Alarm System Performance

What we’ve covered so far is important, but not nearly as critical as how the technology installed or implemented on campus actually performs in the real world. Does the panic alarm system work as expected and as needed? According to the more than 200 protection professionals who participated in this survey, most indicated “yes.”

Of the 66% of respondents who said they own fixed panic button/alarm systems, 75% rated this technology’s performance as excellent (32%) or good (43%). Of the two out of five respondents who have mobile panic button/pendant alarm systems, they are even more satisfied with these technologies. Four out of five (80%) rated the performance of their systems as excellent (41%) or good (39%). The nearly three in five survey takers who have mobile apps that are used for panic alarms and other emergency communications were satisfied with their systems’ performance as well: 44% rated its performance as excellent and 33% rated it as good.

It’s important to note, however, that when we asked survey participants to comment about the overall challenges with their panic alarm/mobile duress systems or apps, many complained about the false alarms they’ve experienced, particularly with their older legacy systems.

“Fixed panic alarms tend to activate accidentally a lot,” said one participant.

“Constant false alarms,” said another.

“False alarms at [the] start of program caused some members of staff not to want to put the app on their phone,” said a third.

But others had quite positive reviews of their systems, albeit many after they worked out some kinks.

“The mobile app we use [is an] outstanding system in daily use, and for us, is a strategic element of our campus safety processes,” said one survey participant.

“We have used a mobile app and have had very positive experience with it in drill form,” said another. “One accidental launching of it last year brought about amazing law enforcement response time and served as a real-time drill.”

“Our system has performed as it should in every incident used,” said yet another respondent. “Initially there were problems identifying exact incident locations but that has since been corrected.”


Campus Safety thanks the more than 200 school, university, and healthcare security professionals who participated in this survey. We truly appreciate your input!

Sponsored by:

Intrado Wearable Panic Button        


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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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