I took a lot of flack before the holidays when I called on schools to roll out simple, low-tech physical security measures to improve student safety in the wake of the Newtown school shootinga. Although a number of readers thought I was politicizing a tech blog (I wasn't), the article was important, in my opinion, because it addressed the idea that school safety doesn't have to be all about ID cards or RFIDs integrated with student information systems. Instead, as with all things in education, we need to look at the most effective tools and solutions, regardless of their technical wow-factor (or lack thereof).
More importantly, though, the article led the folks at Share With 911 to reach out and tell me about the new service they're rolling out this year. Share With 911 is brilliant, both in its simplicity and its game-changing ability to empower both school staff and emergency personnel to quickly and proactively act and communicate in a variety of emergency situations. In fact, even though it's only the second day of 2013, I'm ready to call Share With 911 the best web application of the year for K12 schools. Here's why:
Share With 911 is designed primarily to allow teachers to use smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, or any web-connected device to provide real-time information on emergency situations to first responders and colleagues. Through a stripped down web interface that works flawlessly regardless of the device through which it's accessed, any member of a school's staff can initiate a lockdown if they see something suspicious or dangerous. As soon as they send out the lockdown message (which can be a simple as hitting a lockdown radio button and clicking submit or which can include a short message describing the situation), every staff member and every law enforcement officer in the community is immediately alerted via a text message and/or email.
The key takeaway from my last article was that seconds count and anything schools can do to buy time in an emergency can be critically important. Share With 911 dispenses with time wasted coordinating with administrators, connecting with 911, working with a dispatcher, and waiting for appropriate personnel to be dispatched. Instead, every first responder, on duty or off, in or near the community simply gets a text message and can head for the school wihout delay.
At the same time, Share With 911 provides a dashboard of updates in real time to approaching law enforcement, again all available through a simple, mobile-friendly HTML interface. Teachers can check in and report whether their classrooms are secure, if any students are unaccounted for, if they have extra students for whom staff may be looking, where they are located, and if they have critical needs (e.g., a hostage situation). The dashboard categorizes these updates from most critical to least critical so that by the time law enforcement arrives on the scene, they already have a decent picture of where to focus their efforts.
Additionally, the system provides floor plans and aerial views of the school, as well as translates room numbers into meaningful nomenclature for first responders. For emergency personnel, the front of the building is universally Sector A. Sectors B-D are always assigned by moving around the building clockwise. So while Room 203 (where Mrs. Jones checked in and reported an active hostage situation) may have no meaning to a SWAT team, "Second floor, Sector C" does, especially when combined with a floor plan.
Share With 911 is rolling out in pilots this spring in 10 school districts in New Jersey. Implementation involves coordination between schools and law enforcement and, in the case of one of the pilot districts, police in five other surrounding towns. As with many small towns, neighboring police forces often respond to emergencies as well and in this case, all officers in all 6 towns will be alerted via SMS if the system is activated.
Share With 911 isn't free, but given that the service is only billed per school staff member and all law enforcement users are free, it's extremely reasonable (the "number of people in your database" on the pricing page refers only to school staff members). Most parents, educators, and first responders will agree that it only needs to save one life to be priceless. Although the service is only entering pilots now, Share With 911 is ready to start bringing more districts on board now.