The Everett and Monroe school districts are among the first in the nation to go live with panic buttons, smartphone applications that connect to 911 and provide information about emergencies, said Rich McQuade, operations coordinator at SNOPAC, the emergency dispatch center based in Everett.
Panic buttons speed the time it takes for first responders and law enforcement officers to handle school emergencies by providing critical information before they arrive on campus.
“Every second counts,” Everett School District spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said.
During different types of emergencies, school employees can use the app to connect to a 911 operator who will instantly have the caller's location. Simultaneously, text messages are sent about the situation to administrators, teachers, staff, police and first responders who have signed up to receive the alerts.
Diane Bradford, an executive assistant for Everett School District, said the texts are helpful because officials are able to react quickly based on accurate information.
There are five alert buttons on the app — medical, fire, police, active shooter and 911 other. People can push the one that corresponds to the type of emergency they'd like to report.
The app links to a database used by emergency responders. Schools can provide maps and important information such as locations of hazardous chemicals and other potential dangers inside.
“So if an emergency happens, first responders know what they're going into,” said Jeff Beazizo, safety and risk management officer for the Monroe School District.
Beazizo, a former Washington State Patrolman, instructs school employees to set a special ringtone that also vibrates for texts about school emergencies. That way, the alerts don't get ignored like other messages often do.
The 911 agency can also send follow-up messages, telling school employees what they should do.
The panic button is part of a school security system offered by Rave Mobile Safety. Emergency dispatchers and school officials in Snohomish County helped the Massachusetts-based company develop and test the app.
Money for the panic buttons came from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is required by law to offer schools grants to improve safety and emergency response.
In 2014, the state gave almost $7 million to 80 school districts across Washington. Each district was allowed choose the technology that best suited its needs.
All eight of the Snohomish County districts that were given money opted for the Rave system and chose to first install the panic buttons. The Marysville School District did not receive part of the grant but decided to use the app, too.
Snohomish County school districts receiving grants were:
Stanwood-Camano ($34,216); and
The Sultan, Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano school districts have joined Monroe and Everett in starting to use panic buttons, McQuade, of SNOPAC, said. Meanwhile the Snohomish, Lake Stevens, Arlington and Marysville school districts are still working out glitches with the app, he said.
Some districts now want to get other safety features up and running. Everett is working to give law enforcement access to real-time camera surveillance inside its 26 schools during emergencies.
That way if an armed shooter is on a campus, police can use the technology to look inside buildings and determine the safest way to help.
“Knowing where the bad guy is, is really critical,” said Waggoner, the district spokeswoman. Everett hopes to have more security in place by June.