We’ve all seen the coverage of school shootings in the news. It can be overwhelming, with the events seeming to escalate in both frequency and horror. Consequently, there has been a growing focus on plans for response. These obviously include plans for the response itself, but also for the quick and effective notification of a school shooting event that must occur before that response plan can be set in motion.

This discussion about communication during a school shooting is not new. After the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007, which is still the deadliest in U.S. history, the university was widely criticized for the lack of communication, which sparked a surge in emergency notification systems. Given the recent increase in campus shootings, there has been a renewed focus, this time including new legislation requiring panic alert devices for K-12 schools.

In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 204, which requires all schools in the state to have silent panic alert technology in classrooms by the 2025-2026 school year. Otherwise known as Alyssa’s law, the bill was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives in 2021 by State Representative Shawn Thierry, named after Alyssa Alhadeff, a student who was killed in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The notification technology required by the new law must allow for immediate contact with district or school emergency services and agencies, law enforcement agencies, health departments, and fire departments.

Texas House Bill 204 Requires Silent Panic Alarms
Proponents of Texas House Bill 204 argued that it would make schools safer by allowing teachers and students to notify law enforcement of an active shooter or other emergency, pointing to the fact that many school shootings have been stopped or mitigated by the quick actions of a teacher or student who was able to call for help.

Texas hasn’t been the only state to pass this kind of legislation. Other states have included:
  • Florida’s Safer Schools Act – Signed into law in 2018, this law required all Florida schools to have panic alert devices in classrooms by the 2019-2020 school year.
  • New Jersey’s School Safety Act – This law, which was signed into law in 2019, required all New Jersey schools to have panic alert devices in classrooms by the 2020-2021 school year.
  • New York’s School Safety and Security Act – In 2019, this was signed into law to require all New York schools to have panic alert devices in classrooms by the 2020-2021 school year.

All of these laws require the panic alert devices be able to be activated silently and must send an alert directly to law enforcement and school officials. These are just a few of the legislations that require panic alert devices for schools. Other states have similar laws or are considering them.

Choose Your Alert Systems Carefully
As this trend indicates, it is widely understood that panic alert technology is an important tool for school safety, helping to save lives in the event of an emergency. These generally include some kind of dedicated panic button, designed to be inconspicuous but able to activate a silent alarm, which then alerts designated emergency responders of a security or safety situation to summon help.

By necessity, these devices rely on wireless radio protocols to transmit alarms. But there are unique considerations for panic alert technology. Not all wireless technologies are appropriate for life safety systems. Because reliability can be a matter of life and death, the wireless backbone of a mobile duress system must be fully supervised and able to withstand interference, overcome obstacles, and guarantee multiple paths from the alarm device to the receiver. Most importantly, it must be removed from the common faults and downtimes that cellular connections suffer from. When it comes to their intended use, they must be as fail-proof as possible.

It is essential to distinguish between emergency communication systems and those used for routine communication. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) does a good job of defining the difference in NFPA 72, which provides the latest safety provisions to meet emergency communications demands. This doesn’t just mean fire alarm systems, but includes requirements for all emergency notification systems, which they define as “a system for the protection of life by indicating the existence of an emergency situation and communicating information necessary to facilitate an appropriate response and action.”

As Guy Grace from the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS) puts it, “Normal business telephone, email or cell phone apps designed for routine communication are not adequate for critical communication during an emergency event, unless they are specially configured for this purpose in a code-compliant manner.”

Already existing intrusion detection, emergency communication, and fire detection systems would all fall under the definition of an emergency communication system. As a result, each could allow for an easy expansion of panic alert devices. In a best-case scenario, a panic alert system will operate within the wider unified security systems that are deployed in the schools. This has functional advantages, and when a panic alert system is integrated into an existing security system, the recurring costs can be relatively minor additions to the ongoing services which are already being paid for.

Likewise, when properly implemented, a unified system eases integration of new panic devices and allows a district to continue to easily evolve and expand. Once the wireless infrastructure is already in place – and if an existing emergency notification system already has wireless components – then adding new alert devices can be as simple as registering them with the system. Moreover, these panic alert devices can be used for other threats, like weather emergencies, medical emergencies, and security incidents unrelated to shootings.

“School safety officials will find that once the wireless infrastructure is in place, they’ll easily be able to scale or adjust their emergency notification systems,” says Craig Dever, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Inovonics. “And each time new functionality or devices are added, the district can realize even greater economic benefits.”

Robust Emergency Notification Systems Can Save Lives
School shootings are a tragic and all-too-common occurrence in the U.S., but they can be survivable. By having a plan in place and implementing a robust emergency notification system, schools can not only meet regulatory requirements, but can help to ensure that everyone is notified quickly and effectively in the event of a school shooting or other emergency.

To read this article on the Campus Safety Magazine website, click here.