Bank tellers have had them for years. Now, librarians, school teachers, and Jerry in accounts payable may all be armed with panic buttons. Institutions spooked by the recent spate of mass shootings are investing in a variety of safety apps, panic button apps foremost among them.
The apps open with a few clicks of your smartphone and, once the “button” is pressed it notifies 911 call centers, communicating your identity, location, and what kind of emergency is unfolding. And while the apps can cut emergency response time, they’re not a silver bullet.
“These technologies are designed to enhance protocols and processes and training that you already have in place,” said Mike Shields, vice president of sales for Rave Mobile Safety, the company whose app is used by public libraries in Nassau County, New York and will soon be installed in schools across Suffolk County, New York.
We asked Shields just what institutions need to make the most of their panic button app.
Robust emergency protocols and training
“Whether it’s embracing and training around run, hide, fight or leveraging a wide variety of public resources—the FBI, Department of Justice—that have some really great free programs that can walk you through best practices when it comes to an active assailant or… medical emergency, and things like that.”
ALICE training—an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate—has become very popular among schools and other organizations in the event of workplace violence. And the Red Cross provides first response medical training to staffers who want to know how to save lives.
Organizations that are doing ongoing active assailant training can use the integration of a panic button to have a conversation about the challenges at hand. “Panic buttons aren’t this thing to be afraid of; they’re here to help. We encourage organizations to train live with the app and the program,” Shields said. “Don’t just say, ‘Hey, now we’re going to press this.’”
A dedicated response staff
Panic button apps quicken emergency response to organizations that don’t have a full standalone security force, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need boots on the ground. In schools, this may include the school resource officer, key administrators, and teachers with military, security or medical experience.
These are the trusted people authorized to push the panic button, whose identities the RAVE cloud can verify before notifying emergency services and sending email or text notifications to the rest of the organization. The safeguard prevents rogue staff or students from activating the system as a prank or retaliatory act, Shields said.
“The other thing that we see as best practice is having a single person that is a safety coordinator,” said Shields. Not every organization can have a dedicated safety administrator or security officer, but it should have “somebody to make sure that the right steps are taking place. Having somebody with that assignment, you see this a lot in colleges and hospitals, is critical.”
Coordination with local officials
During a critical real-life event, your response staff is going to have to coordinate with 911, EMS, fire departments and police, so it’s best to bring them in when developing protocols and running training exercises. While panic button apps do transmit some information immediately, there still needs to be coordination and communication between teams.
Most civilians, Shields said, “don’t know the difference between talking to a 911 call center and a police officer. They don’t know that a dispatcher needs to know their location to get the fire department out the door.” A trained staff, by contrast, will know that a dispatcher needs access to floor plans or how to tap the police into a video camera system.
“You really don’t want to find out about a lack of communication during a real-world event.”