Texas lawmakers hack into bill for ‘panic alert system’ for school safety again

AUSTIN (Nexstar) – After Uvalde, two of the state’s leading Republicans have signaled that certain school safety measures will be a priority in this legislative session, giving some lawmakers hope to pass bills they have failed to pass in the past.

For the second consecutive session, Rep. Sean Thierry, D-Houston, is introducing the “panic button bill,” legislation that would require Texas schools to have warning devices with technology that immediately notifies EMS, law enforcement, and other emergency responders. in case of emergency.

Her bill is modeled after the Alissa Act, which was named after one of the victims of the Florida Parkland High School shooting that killed 17 people. The purpose of the law is to eliminate law enforcement response delay due to slow secondary communications between teachers and administrators, and emergency operators and first responders. Both Florida and New Jersey have adopted these laws.

As the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, Thierry says the bill is personal to her.

“Time is equal to life — in minutes, in seconds. All of this makes the difference between saving a life,” she said.

During the 2021 legislative session, Thierry’s bill moved across party lines in the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. She is working with Senator Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe this year, and feels more confident in passing it, especially since both Speaker Dade Phelan and Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick have cited school safety as their top priorities.

“What we saw in Uvald was tragic. But even worse was that we heard stories of children aged 9 and 10 hiding under their desks using their personal cell phones trying to contact the police to let them know they were alive,” she said. “This technology allows you to almost press a button in an instant and immediately contact emergency responders in real time, and they can track your location.”

How panic button technology works

Ihri legislation does not require school districts to adopt a specific brand or manufacture of panic alert systems.

One private company, Centegix, who developed the panic alert system, demonstrated how the product works for Nexstar.

The Centegix badge allows teachers to press a button that immediately triggers a panic alert system for the entire county and first responders to facilitate communication and get everyone into self-isolation as quickly as possible. (Photo: Nexstar/Monica Madden)

Attached behind the teacher ID lanyard they wear to school, the Centegix badge has a button that users can press in case of an emergency. In the event of a medical emergency, teachers press it 3 times and it notifies administrators and local rescuers of the situation.

In the case of an active shooter, users keep pressing the button until they hear an alarm. Signal lights installed in every classroom, corridors and other parts of the school immediately start flashing. Everyone in the building will quickly become aware of the need for a lockdown, and local rescuers will be notified with an accurate map and the location of people in the building.

Heather Connelly, regional vice president of Centegix, said that as a former high school teacher, she would like to have something like her company badge.

Most school districts have alert apps installed on mobile phones that can be used in the event of an active shooting. However, Connelly said this can be problematic as the apps use a WiFi connection and often many teachers don’t even download it on their personal phones.

“I can tell you that I rarely had a mobile phone in my hand when I was teaching,” she said. “You’re actually counting on a lot of human behavior and a lot of human recognition to use it, and that’s what failed in Uvalde.”

The Texas House of Representatives Select Committee of Inquiry, which reviewed the failures in the Robb Elementary School shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers, called the apps a miscommunication method. Due to poor broadband coverage in the area, not everyone at the school immediately received armed criminal alerts.

“When you’re in such an emergency, it’s hard to remember what to do. Even though we are teaching our children and staff how to self-isolate, sometimes you get stressed and shocked,” Connelly said. “So it gives everyone a chance to be behind a locked door and in the safest place.”

As a parent of two sons, William Fullerton, father of Lake Travis, just wants to make sure his kids are safe when he drives them to school. He hopes legislators will pass Thierry’s bill, and that counties will provide parents with more information about Texas child safety measures.

“We have Texas A to F accountability standards for academic and financial performance for school districts, and both of these systems provide amazing transparency for parents,” Fullerton said. “I think the same level of transparency and accountability applies to school safety – parents, taxpayers, educators – everyone should know how safe these schools are.”

What is the cost of these devices?

According to a financial note from Thierry’s 2021 bill, requiring this in schools would cost the state of Texas approximately $20 million, which the financial note said would not create “significant financial impact” on the budget.

Thierry says she has also already been working on getting that money, getting money from grants.

“We will have more dollars this session, our school safety allocation will be able to cover the cost of this if there are additional costs,” she said. “It is very important that schools understand that they need every tool in the toolbox. We don’t want to look back a day later and say, “If only we had this.”

Installing public address systems like Centegix is ​​expensive, but Connelly notes that it’s a one-time, fast fee, and school districts can apply for a grant.

While some critics say the technology is mostly reactive and doesn’t address the causes of school shootings, Terry thinks the law would still be a good start.

“You can’t let perfection get in the way of goodness,” she said. “It’s just another way to make sure our teachers and our kids don’t sit in a bunker in an emergency without being able to really contact the outside world.”

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