Districts looking at crisis app to help improve security

Stephen Floyd

In response to a call for greater student security, the Winlock and Toledo School Districts have been looking at a new app-phone based technology enabling them to initiate lockdowns from mobile devices.

School Alert, a program by Helix Group, based in Tumwater, is an app that can be downloaded on smart phones and tablet computers and allows an instructor, staff member or administrator to remotely alert law enforcement of a threat at a school, as well as enable automatic lockdown procedures through door locks and the intercom system.

Developed with the help of the Rainier School District in direct response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 of last year, School Alert allows districts to comply with recent directives to update emergency response plans, which were also put in place in the wake of Sandy Hook.

School Alert will cost districts a licensing fee of $1,000 per year, as well as a one-time installation fee of $3,000 per building. A state-funded grant has been made available to cover the installations fees and, while the grant officially remains competitive, the funding set aside for districts to access the grant happened to be enough for every school in the state to pay the $3,000 fee.

Once installed, districts will be able to send out alerts for various crisis levels, from an armed intruder entering the building, to an injured child on the playground. Specific hot keys can be customized according to the needs of a building, and some elementary schools have also added a "vomiting student" feature due to the immediate response needed for such an incident.

As the software is developed, it is expected faculty and staff using the app will be able to press a hot key indicating the specific type of crisis, and GPS coordinates will be able to communicate the specific area of the building they are in. In the mean time, users are still asked for such details as where they are located when a crisis is taking place, though a simple "emergency lockdown" button is available for immediate needs.

Toledo has said it is their intent to install the system over the holiday weekend for use starting next term, while Winlock has not yet indicated their plan to utilize the system. For additional info on School Alert, go to www.school-alertsystem.com.