After a student opened fire in a suburban Kansas City high school, Melissa Lee comforted her son and daughter, then three weeks later wept for those who died in the Uvalde, Tx., massacre. When she later learned that the local school district had purchased one of the panic-alert systems that were growing popular amid a surge in school violence, she felt “absolutely” reassured. The technology, featuring wearable panic buttons or mobile phone apps, enables teachers to notify each other and police in the event of an emergency, the Associated Press reports. A part of the widespread action to beef up school security, many states now mandate or encourage the buttons and a growing number of districts are providing tens of thousands of dollars per school for them. The budget includes metal detectors, security cameras, vehicle barriers, alarm systems, clear backpacks, bullet-resistant glass and door-locking systems.
Critics say school officials, in their haste trying to come up with any solution, are focusing on the wrong things. Ken Trump of National School Safety and Security Services said schools should focus on making sure teachers are implementing basic safety protocols such as ensuring doors aren’t propped open. The attack in Uvalde illustrated the shortcomings of panic-alert systems. Robb Elementary School had implemented an alert app, and when an attacker approached the school, a school employee did send a lockdown alert. Because of poor WiFi or phones turned off, not all teachers received it. Those who did may not have taken it seriously, The school sent out frequent alerts related to Border Patrol car chases in the area. Brent Kiger, Olathe, Ks., schools’ director of safety services said the decision to spend $2.1 million over five years for a system called CrisisAlert “isn’t a knee-jerk reaction.” The system, different from what Uvalde relied on, allows staff to trigger a lockdown that will be announced with flashing strobe lights, a takeover of staff computers and a prerecorded intercom announcement. Teachers can set off the alarms by pushing a button on a wearable badge at least eight times. Staff also can summon help to break up a hallway fight or to deal with a medical emergency if they push the button three times.