Developing a Response Policy for Mobile Panic Alerts at Schools

When creating it, be certain to include the appropriate stakeholders and tailor the policy to your budget.

Developing a response policy for mobile duress systems is not as simple it might be for other emergency notifications. For example, when a fire alarm activates, the response is always an immediate dispatch to the central station and the fire department… seconds count. But when a mobile duress pendant at a school is activated, there are multiple options for response. The system can enunciate a local alarm bell at the school, it might send a signal to a central station that then dispatches police, or it might send a local silent signal to the school resource officer.

So what is the correct response? Often, the response it tailored to what the school can afford. If the school does not have an on-site command center with campus safety officers, then that obviously is not an option. But whatever the policy is for responding to panic alarms, it needs to be thoroughly vetted by both school officials and outside response agencies.

“There is no blanket response policy… each campus safety department knows best,” says Craig Dever, vice president of sales at Inovonics, a manufacturer of mobile duress panic alarm system. “The one thing that is most important no matter what is speed. How fast can that signal go through? With that parameter in mind, there is usually local enunciation, but primarily schools want rapid notification of the police. The budget has usually been made available for the worst case scenario, and in those cases the police are always the responders.”

When Creating Policies, Involve the Right Stakeholders
The teams that normally create the best response policies include school administration, campus safety officers/administrators, the electronic systems integrator and outside law enforcement.  The integrator is a vital piece of the puzzle because he will have intimate knowledge of a school’s video surveillance, mass notification and access control systems. He could recommend ways to integrate the wireless emergency alert system into the campus-wide security systems. For example, the emergency alert could be sent through the school’s access control system to enunciate the alarm, which would then kick off the internal or external response.

“All of the school districts have extended teams that include local law enforcement,” notes Don Comare, vice president of marketing at Inovonics. “Through that collective interaction, the [team] plays out the scenarios so they know what the protocol is. Response policies are never made in isolation or independently from the supporting local law enforcement agencies.”

For instance when an alarm sounds, faculty and students need to know if they should shelter in place or evacuate. Police need to know if they should arrive with their guns drawn. First responders in general need to know if there is a faculty member or other staff person inside defending the school.

“The police want the information,” says Comare. “They don’t stop until they silence the shooter. Their responsibility is to neutralize the threat. Police need to know as much as possible before going in.”

For Best Response, Integrate Systems Whenever Possible
The ideal setup is to have multiple school campuses within a district tied together, according to Dever.  In nearly every school, there is some sort of centralized security command structure. Usually that is a separate administrative office outside the school building. In an ideal world, multiple mobile duress systems are deployed in multiple campus facilities and are then tied back to a central location. But that does not tend to be the typical scenario. Only a few schools are able to get budget for that. Mostly, systems are confined to individual schools,  but the technology is there to network schools within a district together.

Photo: ThinkStock

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