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Martin County School District touts new technology to keep students, staff safe

All Florida school districts must have mobile panic alarm system for 2021-22 academic year
An emergency alert test at J.D. Parker Elementary School in Stuart on July 26, 2021.jpg
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-09 07:27:55-04

STUART, Fla. — When students head back to the classroom this year, all Florida school districts must be in compliance with Alyssa's Law.

The law is named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, a student killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland when a gunman opened fire on campus in 2018. It requires schools to have a mobile panic alarm system in place to notify local law enforcement in case of an emergency.

While Florida school districts must comply at the start of the 2021-22 academic year, Martin County installed new technology last school year to enhance safety and comply with the law.

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With the push of a button, a Martin County school district employee can activate an emergency alert that gets notification to law enforcement within seconds.

Special strobe lights flash inside the school, an alarm goes off, and a message displays on the computers, alerting everyone of the lockdown.

This crisis alert system through Centegix cost the Martin County School District about $800,000, but the safety and security director for the school district said it was money well spent.

"Everyone in the district gets one of these cards, and it's a badge that they have to wear on their person, right behind their ID card, and it gets them the help they need within seconds," Frank Frangella, the Martin County School District safety and security director, told WPTV. "Having every staff member at their fingertips a way to notify first responders to get there as quickly as possible makes all the difference in the world."

When the alert goes off, the strobe lights are color-coordinated for the type of emergency that is happening. For example, the lights will flash red for a lockdown if the danger is on campus, and blue for a lockout if it's off campus.

Frangella said there are different types of alerts as well.

"There's what's called a staff alert. So you press the button three times. This only gives notification to the site administration and the site [school resource officer]," Frangella said. "So let's say there's a fight in a classroom, someone is sick. The teacher can't leave the classroom, but she needs someone to assist."

The other type of alert is a more serious situation.

"For a major crisis like an active assailant situation or you see something that just doesn't feel right and you are nervous, you just repeatedly press this button," Frangella said. "In an emergency alert, it also goes to the sheriff's office dispatch, every law enforcement in the area, district personnel, and the real-time crime center at the sheriff's office. When someone uses the card and presses it, anywhere they are in the building, a beacon will show up right on the [website] here. It will tell me who it is and where they are in the building."

Frangella said the system has already been put to use several times.

Frank Frangella touts Martin County schools crisis alert system
Frank Frangella, the Martin County School District safety and security director, explains the new crisis alert system being used in schools.

"In one of our pre-K schools, we had two people jump over the fence. Two of our staff members actually saw what was going on, they pressed the emergency alert," Frangella said. "The two people actually saw the strobes go off, they heard the P.A. messages, which prompted them to jump right back over the fence and take off. So the system does work."

Frangella added there have been some false alarms, but those don't bother him. They are all good practice to show the system works as it should, he said.

"I tell everybody, if it doesn't feel right in your tummy, if something's going on, you have that feeling that something's going to happen, put it in lockdown. We can always figure it out after. I'd rather everybody be safe," Frangella said.

The Martin County School District is also using technology through a company called Reaxium to keep up with bus riders. Students scan their ID cards when they get on the bus, and the system can tell the driver if those children are, in fact, on the right bus, as well as where they get off.

The system is also a part of the district's contact tracing efforts. It produces a seating chart and allows drivers to see how long each student was on the bus to see if they've had close contact with others.

Soon, it will help notify parents where their child is, should there ever be a major emergency.

"As the kids are going on the bus swiping, their emergency contact is going to be pulled out of our database and we are going to be sending real-time messages to the parents," Frangella said. "So this way, they know number one that their child is safe. They are going to the other location. It's going to tell you where to go to pick up their child. By us having those children get on the bus and that information in real-time is being sent out going there, we're hoping the messaging is going out and parents will know to go pick up their child at a different location."

Frangella said the district is leading the way with this new technology to protect students and staff.

"I want to make sure when I go to sleep and put my head on the pillow every night, that I did everything I possibly could to keep our kids and staff members safe," Frangella said.

Frangella added it's very important for parents to have updated contact information with their child's school so they know how to contact you in the case of an emergency.

St. Lucie Public Schools said the district will be using the SaferWatch Platform. It provides mobile panic buttons that will be assigned to school staff and administrators through their mobile device and/or district computer. A district spokesperson said when initiating SaferWatch’s panic button, public safety emergency operation centers are immediately notified of the situation.

The School District of Palm Beach County will also be using a mobile panic alarm system.

The Okeechobee County School District said it's working with a vendor on an app-based program that will speed dial 911 in an emergency. Since it's app-based, Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Dylan Tedders said the district can't force staff to download it to their personal devices, but it will also be accessible through the computer system throughout the school sites.

The School District of Indian River County's director of security and emergency operations sent this statement to WPTV:

"The SDIRC continues to make safety and security a top priority at all our schools and facilities. The state has mandated adherence to Alyssa’s Alert Law and the SDIRC continues to stay complaint with these directives. Our teachers, staff, and employees have the ability to utilize products such as Raptor Alert and Mutualink to immediately alert LEAs in our county to respond immediately to any Active Shooter or Active Assailant event. We appreciate the continued assistance from all our LEAs with this initiative. As of 8/1/21, the Office of Safe Schools has approved us to move ahead with our new product, Raptor Alert. We have been complaint since ’18-’19 with the RAVE App. We are moving away from RAVE and contracting with another approved vendor, AT&T to utilize Raptor Alert. All our Charter Schools are complaint as of 8/1/21 as well. We always want our message to all our stakeholder to be, 'See something, say something.'"

For more information about Alyssa's Law, click here.