On December 7, 2017, Aztec High School in San Juan County, New Mexico faced every school’s worst-case scenario and revealed a need to improve school emergency response times. A former student entered the school and fatally shot two classmates. During the incident, the school was able to follow lockdown procedures which probably played a significant role in preventing further injuries, but communication was delayed by the school's radio and intercom system.
Local first responders were trained and prepared for active shooter situations, but the incident at Aztec High School highlighted a need for new communication technology. During the shooting, someone had radioed the front office and told the receptionist what was happening, which was then relayed to 9-1-1 operators.
Tandra Malcom, Operations Manager at the San Juan County 911, says this method was inefficient. "When the shooting occurred, someone radioed the school’s front office and told the receptionist what was happening, which was relayed to 9-1-1,” she said. “It wasn’t the best process because we weren’t able to get information directly from the people who were actually on the scene.”
During the attack, there was an announcement over the school’s loud speaker to follow lockdown procedures, but teachers were not aware of the nature of the emergency, let alone where the shooter was. A few teachers learned there was an active shooter from the Principal in the hall. The school put resource officers in the school immediately following the incident, but resources needed to be allocated to improve emergency response time.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes -- before law enforcement even arrives on the scene. Minutes are precious in life or death situations, making effective communication essential to save lives. Schools primarily look for communication technology, emergency alerts, entry control equipment when it comes to preventing these attacks.
The district identified the a school safety solution that could be accessed via personal smartphones that staff already had on hand. In the case of an active shooter, any faculty or staff with the app can press the appropriate button. Upon activation, the user’s phone will immediately dial 9-1-1 and at the same time, a preset notification is delivered to all necessary personnel including staff, and security.
Panic button technology allows teachers near the scene to talk directly to 9-1-1 operators to better coordinate first responders and alerts the rest of the school to the situation. Because the school grounds are geo-fenced, any panic button activation will report an incident directly to 9-1-1 and key personnel, consolidating and simplifying the information sharing process. Where minutes matter most, effective and precise communication plays a major role in keeping people safe.
San Juan County is also working to prevent future violent incidents in its schools by sharing insights in the aftermath of an emergency in order to pinpoint areas for improvement. Reviewing how emergencies are handled using available analytics has helped highlight gaps and create learning opportunities for each jurisdiction after every incident.
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