In fall 2017, Sandy Hook Promise quietly launched its new Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, starting with onboarding a small group of schools in the use of the free app/online/call-in tool. After the shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February, the organization decided that perhaps a few more schools might be interested in signing up if they publicized the system’s availability.
It took only a short time for the total to jump to 800 and continue climbing.
Such a huge increase in workload might seem daunting to some people, but Sandy Hook Promise Executive Director Tim Makris takes it all in stride: “It’s been pretty explosive. We have more than 50 districts that we’re in the process of onboarding. We’re talking with a group of 25 school districts in California and with eight states that want to do a full statewide rollout. Our staff is incredibly technically savvy and we’re not anticipating any problems with handling the demand.”
Available free for both Android and iOS devices, the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System accepts tips 24/7 through a website, via app and by phone call. The nonprofit organization provides a crisis center, where staff review the tips and send all submissions on to local law enforcement and/or school administrators for response. During the onboarding process, school administrators, school security and local law enforcement determine their community’s definition of a “life safety tip” that requires an immediate, urgent response and also determine who will respond to various categories of tips. Makris says Sandy Hook Promise provides national standards regarding life safety and several models to help a district design a program that meets its specific needs, with everything ultimately spelled out in a memorandum of understanding. From there, the team establishes the onboarding process, sets up a comprehensive training program, runs “tip”-based testing and finally launches the program, with ongoing support following the launch.
“We make sure the whole system works the way it should and at the same time, we give them a chance to practice their protocols by sending out several practice tips over a period of time. We collect feedback from the school prior to going live and our training includes not only the staff who run the program, but also local law enforcement, students and staff, and even parents if the school requests it,” Makris says. The system does require users to associate themselves with a particular school when submitting a tip, which means that although the app can be downloaded by anyone, it can only be used by participating school districts and their local communities. Requiring this association decreases the chances of hoax tips coming in from another part of the country, something that can happen with some other reporting systems. Another safeguard built into the program is establishing a dialog with school administrators as soon as an initial inquiry is received: “We don’t want to send staff into an area only to find out that the inquiry came from a parent who never even spoke to administrators,” he adds.
Those, and other safeguards and features, came about as the result of several years of research and development that took place before the fall 2017 launch. The reporting system grew out of Sandy Hook Promise’s “Say Something” program (see “Danbury Students Learn How Important it Is to ‘Say Something,’ ” https://schoolsafetyinfo.org/stories/Success4Danbury-Say-Something.html), which encourages students to tell a trusted adult when they see something that seems “off.”
“We interviewed students about the program and their needs, and there was a subset who said ‘Yeah, like no, I can’t go to a trusted adult,’ ” Makris says. “We decided we needed to offer an anonymous reporting system, and while our organization doesn’t believe in reinventing the wheel, in this case we looked at a lot of existing platforms and couldn’t find anything to partner with that met all of the needs we defined. So we found a developer and created our own package.”
With that package developed and operational, Sandy Hook Promise continues to work on onboarding schools, implementing a train-the-trainer program for larger districts and developing an interactive training video with role play scenarios. And even with its relative newness, the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System has already recorded success stories, including a teacher who called because she felt administrators weren’t taking a threat by a student to shoot an ex-girlfriend seriously and a mother who called because her daughter and classmates had found threatening notes left in shared books. In both cases, interventions stopped the threat.
“That shows the system works,” Makris says. “Those are the kind of endings we want.”