'Panic buttons' appear in schools

The Medford School District has started installing police "panic buttons" in all 19 of its schools, so that anyone can summon armed law enforcement with one push.

The first was tested at Jacksonville Elementary and performed as expected, district officials said.

Pushing the button sends a call to a security firm, which contacts local police. The alarm also triggers a recording by the principal announcing to secure classrooms from a "direct threat" and repeating the message that police have been called and are on their way.

Planning for the system and other security measures began after the 2012 gun attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, in which 26 were killed, said district Superintendent Phil Long.

The system will cost $167,000 and be ready by the start of classes in September.

The alarms will be encased in blue boxes, often next to the familiar red fire alarm boxes. The caller has only to lift the lid and hit the button, circumventing the time-consuming process of getting out one's phone and trying to recall numbers.

The alarms could be used for less dangerous situations, such as when an angry parent from out of state comes in to confront someone, said Long.

However, notes School Resource Officer Mike Jackson of Medford police, "they should be reserved for life-threatening emergencies inside the building, where you need all the police as soon as possible."

The alarms are intended to summon police, warn building occupants of the emergency and keep repeating the message, so as to keep new visitors out.

There are phones in classrooms, and people should still call 911 and provide information about the location and nature of the threat.

The system lets police know where in the building the alarm was activated, said Rick Snyder, principal of Jacksonville Elementary. School staff also gets an email about the location of the alarm.

Police and schools are still working out what constitutes a threshold event for triggering the alarm.

Snyder says he feels the police alarms are appropriate if an angry parent comes on campus "and we can't de-escalate and he keeps ramping it up. My voice comes on the speakers, saying police are on the way. The teachers lock down and the person will think, 'Maybe I'd better go.'

"That's the beauty of this. It's the fastest way. It saves four or five minutes if I'm outside at the corner of the campus. It's that extra level of safety. It will give pause to someone who might want to do us harm."

The alarms are not likely to be triggered maliciously by kids, says Long, as "it's something they've learned to be respectful of with fire alarms, and it's not as easy to do with cameras all around."

The alarms will go into Oak Grove Elementary School next, in early April, says Long.

The alarms accompany other security steps since Sandy Hook, including making all classrooms inaccessible to the public from outside; window coverings so classrooms can't be viewed from outside; cameras at all outside doors and parking lots; the ability to lock all doors from the inside; and locked six-foot fences surrounding the campuses.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Share This Story