Counting the seconds to safety

08/21/2013  |  By DARCY R. KERNAGHAN
School Security
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American Psychologist magazine recently addressed the issue of violence in schools in “Understanding and Preventing Violence against Teachers,” published online in January and in its February–March print edition.

“Schools now report over a quarter of a million students per month are being physically attacked during the school day, 950,000 students across the United States bring weapons to school every month, and 160,000 kids miss school everyday due to bullying and school violence,” the authors’ research revealed.

Additional research showed that each year, seven percent of teachers in K-12 schools are threatened with injury and three percent of teachers are physically attacked by students. A 2011 anonymous web-based survey by the American Psychological Association’s task force on the subject revealed much higher numbers, with 80 percent of 2,998 K-12 teachers from 48 states reporting at least one victimization experience in the current or past year and 44 percent reporting physical attacks.

Beyond these experiences are the shootings at schools across the country by students or intruders, with the most resounding recent incident resulting in the death of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

As the Obama government, educators at all grade levels and organizations such as the APA work to eliminate circumstances and issues that can predicate violence in schools, a new technology is developing that can significantly reduce police and emergency service response times when incidents do occur.

Seconds Count

No matter the excellence of local responders, “when seconds count the police are just minutes away,” says Michael Webber, a former Ohio State highway patrol officer with military experience who conducts crisis management training for school administrators.

Webber has taught for 10 years at Ohio’s University of Findlay. The university received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency three years ago to provide a national course on K-12 school crisis management through partnerships between school systems and rural law enforcement, which Webber now teaches. He is also a Rhodes State College project coordinator developing initiatives for the prevention of, and response to, active shooters on college campuses, a project funded through a Bureau of Justice Assistance grant.

The Findlay K-12 course includes planning and preparation for response to and recovery from critical events. Local first responders also attend so school administrators can benefit from their expertise to make their schools safer.

“Sandy Hook has really raised the awareness level for school safety,” says Webber. He notes the Findlay program has been overwhelmed with calls since the tragedy. He has just finished his third class in three days in Florida.

Webber says the statistics he’s found show that an average school shooting lasts only eight minutes. It can be two to three minutes before someone realizes what’s happening and calls 9-1-1, and another one to two minutes before 9-1-1 dispatches officers to the scene. The average police timing is between six and nine minutes to respond, and then up to two or three minutes to make contact and deal with the threat.

“So in most situations the shooting’s going to be over by the time police arrive. In many situations, that shooter hears the police arriving, they’ll take their own life — in about 33 percent of the cases in an active shooter situation – or they’ll surrender to police. The police get there, and in just about every situation that I’ve studied, that shooting is going to be over with.

“So the trick is staying alive, staying safe, for our schools to provide safety to our children and keep them alive and safe until the police arrive.”

One-Touch Personal Security

Enter new technology to create a 24/7 mobile personal safety system based on the most effective way to provide it: the smartphone.

According to Nielsen, as of February 2012, 49.7 per cent of U.S. mobile phone subscribers owned Smartphones, an increase of 38 per cent over 2011. More than two-thirds of those who acquired a mobile device in the previous three months had chosen a smartphone over a feature phone.

Only about five years old, Smartphone-based personal safety solutions are available from a handful of North American companies.

The technology’s basic premise is to link the subscriber’s Smartphone with the technology provider’s central monitoring station via a one-touch button. This significantly reduces the traditional call time to reach and inform 9-1-1 of the situation and also enables instant GPS capture, which reduces 9-1-1 response time.

For example, SOS Response’s personal life safety solution enables the subscriber to press one button on a smartphone or iPad to not only instantly notify the SOS monitoring center, but also take and transmit 30 photos in 30 seconds.

The monitoring center operator can quickly assess and respond to the situation armed with the subscriber’s coordinates, situational photos, and detailed profile, which can include the room the subscriber is scheduled to be in at that time.

Photos are encrypted and are available only to the subscriber and, if desired, to law enforcement strictly upon the subscriber’s request.

Creating a Virtual Perimeter

Smartphone-based personal safety technology generally links to the technology provider’s own 24-hour central monitoring center.

However, when a subscriber group such as a school district prefers to be first to respond to a call, certain providers can create a virtual security perimeter, also called a “geofence,” around each school using a web-based monitoring interface.

Within the school’s perimeter, each subscriber’s Smartphone is linked to the school district’s monitoring center. Outside the perimeter, the subscriber’s Smartphone instantly links to the technology provider’s center.

Benefits can include ease of learning, real-time reporting, encrypted technology, storage on secure redundant servers, continual access, no new hardware or ongoing software fees, monitoring from one or multiple locations, and the ability to integrate the technology into existing alarm monitoring software.

As the technology evolves, SOS Response also foresees the ability to support emergency notification via mass texts from the monitoring center to all subscriber devices deployed within the perimeter.

Protecting Health and Increasing Safety

Personal safety solutions are being used in numerous fields, including elementary, secondary and post-secondary education and healthcare, and by businesses for their tenants or for employees in at-risk situations to mitigate liability.

Universities are adopting it particularly for the safety of their female students. Recent studies show that in a post-secondary environment in North America, 25 per cent of all females in a four-year course will be physically assaulted, generally within the first eight to 10 weeks and by someone the student knows.

Personal life safety technology can provide immediate, second-by-second documentation of an attack on an educator. It can also provide critical assistance in cases of student or teacher injury, for example in a gym or at the far end of a football field.

Some schools are interested in the technology as a means to reduce incidents of bullying. Many are investigating and/or adopting it as a need-to-have layer of prevention and protection against crises such as shootings.

When seconds count, personal life safety technology could reduce incident response time by minutes.

As founder, President and CEO of Securiguard Services Limited, parent company of SOS Response Ltd., Darcy Kernaghan is committed to advancing the security industry. For more information visit www.sos-response.com.
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