The Role of Panic Buttons in School Safety Drills and Emergency Response

Picture of Carolyn Berk By Carolyn Berk

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school drill emergency exitsA seamless school safety drill doesn't just happen on its own. There are many factors to consider when determining the best way to evacuate a building, lock down a classroom, or notify staff members. Panic buttons can help school administrators do more than summon emergency responders. Some panic button app systems can also help schools run safety drills that are thorough and effective. Learn why schools need to prioritize communication and collaboration among their staff when running crucial safety drills, and where resources like the Rave Panic Button app can come into play. 

The Technology Choices for Panic Buttons in Schools

Each school needs to follow its own unique state legislation, such as how many drills they are required to run each year. The nature of required school drills also varies by state. For example, some must prepare against various threats such as fire, severe weather, active shooters, chemical hazards, and other incidents. Regardless of the plan of action for each type of drill, it is universally vital that your staff, local authorities, and other important actors are clear about what is expected of them, while being consistently informed and in communication before, during, and after the drill. 

To easily meet and exceed state requirements, school safety drills require sophisticated panic button technology that allows staff to address all important factors of drills, such as communicating to teachers in classrooms that a lock down has been lifted. 

Related Article: Why We Should Consider This Emergency Management Process for  Ending School Violence

One recent development in panic buttons includes wearable, wireless panic buttons that either connect with a central receiver or to an app on the user's Smartphone. While these may be faster to activate, they don't necessarily convey the nature of the emergency, such as whether students should evacuate for a fire or barricade against an intruder. Additionally, the effectiveness of these wearable panic buttons are limited by the range of the receiver. If the button was pressed far away from the school, such as for a medical emergency on a football field, the signal may be too weak to reach the receiver.

However, panic button smartphone apps are not restricted by these factors. Apps such as the Rave Panic Button app can also be swiftly deployed while simultaneously notifying 9-1-1 dispatchers and on-site teachers and staff. These notifications can convey the nature of the emergency, so that school personnel and first responders can react appropriately. Additionally, panic button smartphone apps are dependent on the same signal as other apps, which generally provides them with a far greater range than simple receivers located within the school building. 

These elements don't just matter when emergencies occur. They also play a major role in the planning and execution of effective school safety drills. 

Using Panic Button Apps for Tabletop Drills

Whichever type of technology you choose, it is important that tabletop drills are conducted with key personnel in attendance. Tabletop drills familiarize authorized users with the technology that they will use. This is critical as it simulates the experience of how information will be communicated, and educates participants on their roles when the real life drill takes place. 

Tabletop exercises are also vital for ensuring that drills go as smoothly as possible. The failure to conduct tabletop exercises can result in a confused and chaotic drill from which nobody will learn anything. For help with the process of conducting a tabletop drill, be sure to read our guide to conducting tabletop exercise scenarios. 

Using Panic Button Apps for Full-Scale Drills

Once your team has conducted a tabletop drill, it's time to practice for safety with full-scale drills that expand beyond the tabletop. There are many types of possible drills to run, and depending on local laws and regulations, running a particular type of drill a certain number of times a year is required. There are several ways that schools around the country have been running these drills - some of them have incorporated panic button apps  to facilitate a quicker response among staff. 

At Hoke County High School in North Carolina, staff used the Rave Panic Button app to communicate during an active shooter drill. In this exercise, a law enforcement officer entered the school dressed as a gunman and fired several shots. Staff activated the Panic Button app and initiated lockdown procedures. The school's SRO immediately arrived on the scene after receiving the notification, and within three minutes fifteen officers from the sheriff's office and local police department arrived at the school. Because the school had collaborated with its local first responders and 9-1-1 center, everyone involved knew that they would be practicing for a drill, not arriving on the scene of an actual emergency. This knowledge also helped everyone involved evaluate their performance and identify areas for improvement. 

In Eaton County, Michigan, many schools districts have access to the Rave Panic Button app. Since Eaton County schools have adopted this, the Panic Button app has been used in more than 200 drills, and used in actual incidents ranging from medical emergencies to a student sneaking a weapon into school. 

Find Out More about Panic Button Apps for Effective School Safety

When running drills and during actual emergencies, a key indicator of success is the speed of response. While some panic buttons may only trigger an alarm, there still generally needs to be a conversation between school personnel and 9-1-1 call takers. The right technological solution will alert emergency services so that first responders can be dispatched immediately, shaving minutes off of response times and potentially saving lives. Furthermore, as apps facilitate two-way communication between staff involved in the incident and 9-1-1, first responders are better prepared for what they will encounter and can communicate with staff during the response to enhance situational awareness - something that is not possible with other panic button technologies.

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Carolyn Berk

Written by Carolyn Berk

Carolyn Berk is a Content Marketing Specialist at Rave Mobile Safety. She writes about public safety and technology for professionals in state and local government.

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