Earlier this month in the United States, the Florida Senate approved a measure that would mandate that a mobile panic alarm system must be installed in all schools throughout the state. This progress in Florida follows hot on the heels of New Jersey – the first state to pass “Alyssa’s Law” back in June 2019.

What is Alyssa’s Law?

The creation of Alyssa’s Law was prompted by the tragic 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida which left 17 dead and 15 injured. Long and heartfelt campaigning by Lori Alhadeff who lost her 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, during the shooting is beginning to pay off. As well as New Jersey and Florida, New York and Nebraska are working on similar bills.

Alyssa’s Law requires each public and charter school to have a silent mobile panic alarm system, linked to law enforcement, for life-threatening emergency situations. School employees must be able to activate the alarm from any building or location on campus.

The aim of the Law is to provide the fastest possible response during a so-called code red event. In an emergency situation, every second counts. If an alert could have reached all teachers during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School incident, teachers may have had time to respond properly and take measures to keep more students out of the line of fire.

Petitions have been started to ensure that Alyssa’s Law gets passed at a national level. It has inspired the School Violence Prevention and Mitigation Act of 2019 (HR3665) which was introduced to congress in July 2019. Whilst still at the first stage of the lengthy legislative process, this demonstrates just how powerful the US believes this measure could be. With that in mind, is it time that other countries followed their lead and, at the very least, encouraged schools to prioritise the implementation of panic button technology?

How does a school panic button system work?

Managing health and safety in schools can be a difficult task. But against a backdrop of rising levels of classroom violence, accidents and emergency incidents worldwide, those in the education sector have been looking to other industries for solutions. Panic buttons, which have been commonly used in banks and other customer-facing businesses for many years, are definitely on the agenda

The aim of a panic button is to improve the outcome of any emergency by enabling faster responses and better communication. This could be a health-related emergency, a terrorist incident, violence against a teacher, or a fire.

The amount of time it takes to report and respond to an emergency incident can mean the difference between life and death. A panic button system can accelerate both internal and external response, lessening the time between an incident occurring and help arriving.

Some schools have old, rather rudimentary systems in place, such as coded bell rings. However, these are flawed – they don’t give enough information and, critically, they are far from silent, alerting any potential intruder that action has been taken and risking an escalation of the situation.

Old fashioned fixed panic button systems may be in place in some schools. The clear drawback with this is that someone needs to be in the right place to be able to trigger the alarm. This is not always possible – on a sports field, for example, where the chances of a medical emergency or accident are higher. Some traditional systems are linked to direct response from police. Not every incident warrants police response. An additional member of staff appearing can be enough to diffuse more minor situations.

Modern panic button technology has addressed these issues and is relatively inexpensive to implement. Panic button apps can be activated quickly by authorised personnel from any location via their smart device. This will send out simultaneous alerts to staff, administrators and, where appropriate, the emergency services. Many systems will allow alerts to be sent to specific groups of staff, such as those who are first aid trained.

However, relying solely on an app might not be the right solution either – lost or left behind phones and flat batteries are all realities. Some systems integrate with a desktop system too, or even a physical button, that may be more appropriate for the school receptionist who will be able to unobtrusively trigger an alert if they feel threatened.

The existence of a modern panic button system within a school is a simple way to help protect students and staff on a daily basis, making them all feel safer and better able to respond in an emergency situation. This can have a positive knock-on effect of improving overall wellbeing across the board.

Choosing the right panic button system for your school

The Florida bill initially required that all school districts use a specific mobile panic alarm system to be selected by the state. However, some questioned the one-size-fits-all approach. Whilst their Department of Education will still solicit a contract for a single system that districts may implement, district officials are free to select an alternative system if they feel it will work better for their region.

The key things to look out for when choosing your system is that it is scalable and suits your needs. For example, are you happy with mobile only, or would it be helpful to have desktop system too?

Our other top tip is to ensure that your system includes free software/app updates so you don’t get stuck with an outdated system. Technology moves on quickly and you don’t want to get left behind when lives are potentially at stake.

The most important thing is to take action now. It’s no good wishing you had a system once an incident has already occurred.

Why not speak to a member of our team? We’ve plenty of experience in the education setting – take a look at a case study here