Earlier this month, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Assembly Bill A764 into law. The Bill - also known as Alyssa's Law - requires the state's public schools to install silent panic buttons. The cost of compliance has been estimated at between $2.5 million and $12.5 million.
On February 14th 2018, an assailant walked into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida, and started shooting indiscriminately at students and teachers. Within six minutes, the shooter killed seventeen people and injured seventeen others.
One of his victims was 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff - a native of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Alyssa's death prompted a call for better security measures in New Jersey's schools, and as a result “Alyssa's Law” (A764) was introduced into New Jersey's legislature.
The bill passed unopposed and, earlier this month, was signed into law by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Public schools in New Jersey have until the beginning of October to comply with Alyssa's Law and install panic button alarms in every building to communicate silently with law enforcement.
How Panic Alarms Have Become a Go-To Solution
Panic Buttons are growing as a go-to solution for school security due to the speed at which law enforcement is alerted to an emergency situation and can respond. In 2017, the Department of Education's School Safety Survey on Crime and Safety (PDF) reported 27% of public schools had installed panic buttons that communicated silently with law enforcement.
However, since the survey, statewide laws requiring silent panic buttons in public schools have been passed in Iowa, South Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Washington D.C., and Utah. Speaking after Governor Murphy signed A764 into law, Alyssa's mother - Lori - told reporters “Our goal is to get Alyssa's Law passed in every state. Now my focus is going to be in Florida.”
The Cost of Complying with Alyssa's Law
A fiscal analysis of Alyssa's Law estimated it will cost between $2.5 million and $12.5 million for New Jersey schools to install silent panic buttons. This figure was arrived at by allocating between $1,000 and $5,000 per panic button installation and multiplying it by the state's 2,516 public schools. It is not known how compilers of the analysis arrived at such a wide range of installation costs.
What's more worrying about this estimate is that New Jersey's bond-funded School Development Authority is approaching the limits of its statutory bonding capacity. As the Authority may not be able to raise additional funds without prior voter approval, the cost of complying with Alyssa's Law may be at the expense of other Authority-funded school safety projects.
One way to circumnavigate this issue is to have New Jersey's 116,000 teachers download panic button apps onto their Smartphones. App-driven panic button systems like those about to go into service in Washington D.C. cost between $15 and $30 per employee per year to operate, which would mean the cost of complying with Alyssa's law could fall to between $1.75 million and $3.5 million.
Cost should be a Secondary Consideration
In order to achieve the objective of enhancing student safety, cost should take second place to effectiveness. This is where app-driven panic button systems excel. Unlike wall-mounted panic buttons, teachers, SROs, and other staff always have their smartphones to hand, and should an emergency occur, can activate the panic button app without placing themselves in danger.
Panic button apps also simultaneously notify other school personnel about the nature and location of the emergency. As such, this would have resolved an issue in the Parkland shooting in which teachers on the third floor of the school were unaware an active shooter was on the premises, and allowed students to leave their classrooms believing the alarm to be a fire drill.
Also with regard to effectiveness, smartphone panic button apps don't have the same issues as wearable panic button devices. Users only have to remember to keep one device charged and about their person - rather than two - and smartphones don't experience the same out of range problems as Bluetooth wearables. There are several other features to explore for mobile panic button apps.
Find Out More about Panic Button Smartphone Apps
If you are responsible for student safety in your school, district, or community, and you would like to know more about the cost-effectiveness of panic button smartphone apps, do not hesitate to get in touch with our expert team. Our team will be happy to organize a free demonstration of the Rave Panic Button smartphone app in action and answer any question you have about its operation. We would be particularly interested to hear from school safety leaders in New Jersey in order to help them comply with Alyssa's Law before the October deadline.