During a campus-wide event, 9-1-1 is integral in keeping schools safe. 9-1-1 coordinates emergency response, playing a vital role as a lifeline between the crisis and the first responders who are needed to help.
A complete emergency plan requires an expanded planning team, a concept that FEMA, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security strongly recommend when developing and improving on school emergency operating plans. Eric Whitaker, the associate dean and executive vice president for the University of Chicago Medical Center, captures it best in saying “emergency preparedness is a team sport.” The team, in a school emergency, includes the school, first responders, and 9-1-1. Pre-incident collaboration significantly improves a school’s emergency response by building relationships, establishing better communication, and mutual understanding.
In my last few years as a PSAP operations manager, my center began working very closely with our schools to prepare for school emergencies. It wasn’t a practice we had routinely done. In a county with 15 school districts and over 200 schools and colleges campuses, it was difficult for any of us to meet and discuss emergency and response plans.
After tragedies like Sandy Hook, we knew we needed to take a more proactive approach. While we could apply best practices and industry lessons learned to plan for such events—like refining our call processing protocols and training call takers and dispatchers about active shooter events –we felt incomplete in our readiness. While a good start, this independent model lacked relationships with the key players, the schools themselves. We didn’t know school’s internal response plans, what resources and equipment were available on-site, and how we could best communicate in the heat of the moment.
So, how do you logistically collaborate with so many? We discovered a solution that helped us bridge that gap, both pre-incident stage and during the crisis. Rave Panic Button, an emergency communication system that integrated into our current 9-1-1 center technology through our Smart911 system. The Rave Panic Button instantly notifies on-site staff and security of the emergency and dials 9-1-1. Here, we found the solution to many of the problems we had faced before –the things we knew contributed to higher risk:
- Immediate situational awareness at the school
- Time is critical. The Rave Panic Button immediately alerts others on campus who can take immediate, life preserving action while calling 9-1-1 so that we could send the right response. Whether active shooter on campus or a student who collapsed during a basketball game, staff and campus security know what is happening, the location, and can take action.
- Immediate access to floor plans, campus details, emergency documents and contacts for each school facility
- Dispatchers can see the layout of the incident location as they talk to the 9-1-1 caller. This helps them guide first responders to the precise location inside a building or large campus where help is needed.
- An emergency system for all hazards
- Rave Panic Button identifies the type of emergency reported, location, and name of the person who initiated the panic call. It isn’t a one-type of emergency solution but can be applied for all emergencies, ensuring more adoption and successful use.
- Secured emergency communication system during the incident
- As the nature of a 9-1-1 incident unfolds, integration between Rave Panic Button and Smart911 enables secure communication. This facilitates ongoing communication among 9-1-1, first responders, and on-site staff such as directives from the on scene Incident Commander to staff in lock down or the need for someone to bring an AED to a critically ill patient while EMS is driving to the scene.
Given the strides we made in emergency planning and communication, when the worst case scenario event happens like a school shooting, which requires the highest level of excellence in response, I ask you:
- Do you have a comprehensive plan in place?
- Does it involve a team approach or is everyone operating in their own silo?
- Can you benefit from finding ways to work together today to be better prepared tomorrow?
Don’t wait for an emergency to spur collaboration between 9-1-1 and schools, take proactive steps to keep students and staff safe today.