The student races from the back patio of the school to the office, running through the door at top speed on a mission to have the school secretary call a lockdown. Time elapsed from the teacher’s sending him on his mission: 40 seconds, with the secretary still needing to call the lockdown on the PA system, make sure the school resource officer receives the alert and call 911. Actions that would have taken even more precious seconds had this not been a drill.
A teacher pulls down on the emergency tab on her alert tag, automatically putting the school on lockdown, bringing the SRO on the run and alerting 911 dispatch to send more officers to the SRO’s location. Time elapsed until the SRO arrives in her classroom: 3.9 seconds.
Skyview High School in Nampa, Idaho, became the first school in the United States to implement use of a real-time location system (RTLS) that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and the school’s existing Wi-Fi network in April 2013. Installation of the system came as the result of concerns felt by Officer Brad Ford, Skyview’s SRO, after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.
“We protect our banks and our houses better than we do our children, and our children are the most valuable resource we have. It’s my job to ensure that when parents drop their kids off, I’m providing the best security I can, and I believe with this system, that’s what we’re doing,” Ford says.
Ford says in the course of his research into automated ways to call a lockdown, he considered pull-station alarms, “panic buttons” on walls and various types of computer software, but ultimately recommended this system to the administration at Skyview High and his superiors at the Nampa Police Department because the wearable device travels with the school’s 100 teachers and staff wherever they go: classrooms, the gym, the cafeteria, the outside patio. The vendor had previously marketed this system to medical facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and mental health centers, but proved readily receptive to adapting it for use in a school. A pull on the emergency tab activates lockdown procedures and sends device location information to the school’s computer network, the SRO and the 911 dispatch center. The device also includes two programmable buttons that summon lesser tiers of help in the event of a medical situation or a student who is disruptive, but not perceived as a threat to the entire school. Although the school has not needed to use the system to call a lockdown — and both Ford and Nampa Police Chief Craig Kingsbury hope a lockdown never happens — several calls using the two buttons have already proved the system’s worth.
“We all have to deal with medical issues and unruly students too, and that’s how the device has already proven beneficial to us,” Ford says. “We didn’t want a device that just does one thing, we wanted one that can do multiple things. We selected this system, the vendor brought in two people to map out the school and the next day all the staff had tags.”
An anonymous funding donation from the community also contributed to the speed with which Skyview implemented the system. Kingsbury said the quick installation would not have happened without that donation: “It’s not an inexpensive system, but it works very well. The school staff is very receptive. The other schools in the area want to know when they can get it. It is something that gives our school staff, our parents and our community a sense of security.”
The other schools in Nampa (population 80,000-plus) include 12 public elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools, plus a number of private schools, all falling under the jurisdiction of a police department with 112 full-time sworn officers and more than 100 other staff and volunteers. It will take more than donations to fund expansion of the system, but Kingsbury says there have been discussions with the Governor’s Task Force on School Safety and with state legislators about funding sources, and the system has been demonstrated for the Idaho Chiefs of Police, the Idaho Sheriffs Association and other school districts.
“Top-level administrators across the state have seen demonstrations and everyone who has seen it is excited about it. Cost is always a concern, of course, as is making adjustments to meet the needs of schools in rural areas,” Kingsbury says. “I want to emphasize this is not a catch-all. It’s a way to deal with quick lockdown/rapid response situations. Schools and law enforcement still need to be cognizant about the physical structure and know which doors are locked, the procedures for entry and so on. This is just a component of a school safety plan, one to use if there is a catastrophic event. You can’t forget the need to maintain and prevent.”