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Emergency response

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How an Oklahoma School District is Reducing Emergency Response Times

A major debate was sweeping across the United States in the late 2010s: should school teachers be armed?

The idea had sprung up in response to recent school shootings in America. Some stakeholders argued that allowing teachers to carry firearms would decrease the response time to an active shooter incident and save lives. Others, however, said this was too great a responsibility to place on schoolteachers, whose primary role is to educate students.

Administrators and faculty at the Norman Public School District were having a similar discussion. With 24 campuses, the district is the eighth largest in Oklahoma, and it has a staff of roughly 2,000 employees who serve more than 16,000 students in grades pre-K through 12. The school district also has several partnership locations that house early childhood education programs.

“The district is large enough where communication in a timely manner is always important,” says Justin Milner, chief operating officer for the district.

The district has worked closely with local law enforcement to reduce police response times to roughly two to three minutes—significantly faster than response times in rural parts of Oklahoma that average closer to 15 to 20 minutes. District officials and staff also know that every second counts when responding to a crisis, but allowing teachers to carry firearms did not seem like the best fit, Milner says.

“We didn’t feel like that was something our community was interested in, but we did feel we needed to arm our teachers with tools that would empower them,” he adds.

Based on discussions with principals and staff, Milner says the district decided to focus on providing tools that would give teachers the opportunity to initiate an immediate emergency response and modernize its system of intercoms and radios.

The district began looking at which products were on the market in 2017 that could be used to decrease response times without inconveniencing staff—especially teachers.

“There were several in the space that required an additional, literal button, or something that staff would have to keep around their neck,” Milner adds. “Knowing how busy it is in the classroom, we were concerned that they would be able to keep up with it.”

With this perspective, the district reached out to local law enforcement for recommendations on systems to use. The Norman Police Department suggested Milner look at solutions provided by Rave Mobile Safety because the department was using other products by the vendor, including Smart911, to enhance response times. (Smart911 allows users to upload personal information, including medical and mental conditions, to be shared with first responders.)

“As we dug into it and the connection of integration between the Smart911 system, it made good sense,” Milner adds.

During the 2018–2019 school year, the district began training its staff and rolling out the Rave Panic Button at its various campuses. Users download the smartphone application via the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. They can then push a single button to call 911 while simultaneously sending a notification to onsite personnel to alert them to an incident. Additionally, the app enables users to livestream video to first responders to give them an idea of what’s happening at the scene before their arrival.

The app also has a special contact list, which allows the district to customize when to push incident notifications to specific individuals—such as school resource officers, principals, and nurses.

Only active district employees can download and utilize all the functions of the app on their personal devices. The district has also set up geofencing, so only staff who are at a campus location can use the app to report an incident.

“When they are at home and doing nothing related to work, if they engage the app it will not alert through the district,” Milner says. “So far, we have not experienced any misuse or false alerts.”

The application can also be used to notify personnel in case of a medical emergency, such as a seizure, a serious accident, or a sports practice injury.

“We have our sports facilities within our geofence,” says Nick Migliorino, superintendent for Norman Public Schools. “Our football field may be 200 yards from the main facility…that helps direct folks we have on site in addition to emergency responders.”

Since the rollout began, Milner says the district has used the system three to four times for medical emergencies—all with positive results.

“When staff at the school have engaged the emergency button on the app, the 911 operator responds already with the mind-set that it’s a medical emergency, and staff is able to explain and engage services while simultaneously notifying those on the contact list,” he says.

For instance, staff at one facility used the app to request medical assistance when a student had a seizure. The app’s location tracking feature allowed staff to report what room they were in so medical responders could be sent directly there, instead of to a main office.

“We’ve also numbered our entrance points on the exterior, mapped them out, and provided maps to emergency services so in the event they are dispatched to a fire or something, they can be sent to the most expedient point of entry,” Milner adds.

The Rave Panic Button app also provides a staff assist feature, which allows users to communicate with district personnel without contacting emergency services. The district has used this feature to conduct security and safety drills, so staff members are accustomed to responding to incident notifications.

Migliorino says the district conducted a slow rollout of the app to ensure that staff knew how to use it and felt comfortable using it in case of an emergency. He recommends other end users adopt a similar process, along with identifying a point person for the project.

“The app is easy for the end user—most of the training has been with the site administrator and setting up notifications,” Migliorino adds. “The product is really intuitive.”

For more information: Contact Rave Mobile Safety at [email protected].