Schools add panic buttons to communicate during emergencies

EVERETT — Just months after the fatal shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School in October, Snohomish County school districts are adding panic buttons to more than 80 campuses.

The buttons are part of a smartphone application that will be used by school staff, emergency dispatchers and first responders for communication during campus emergencies. Two Everett schools started a pilot program in August.

Participating school districts are Arlington, Everett, Lakewood, Marysville, Monroe, Snohomish, Stanwood and Sultan. Meetings are planned next week to begin the larger rollout.

Eventually, the idea is to add firefighters, medics and private schools to the notification network, officials said.

The program is funded by a $250,000 grant from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Each district is expected to start with the buttons at one school to get the hang of it. Not everyone is notified of every emergency, as school administrators decide on specific groups in advance.

Rave is made by the same company as Smart911, the program rolled out in the county in 2014 that encourages people to share information about their households for dispatchers in case of an emergency.

The panic buttons are for all emergencies, including school shootings, said Kurt Mills, the executive director at SNOPAC, the dispatch center based in Everett. For example, the buttons could summon help if someone suffers a heart attack on a playground, or a hazardous chemical is spilled in the science lab.

If pushed, the button automatically calls 911 and sends alerts to the designated groups. As the call is connected, school officials are notified that something is happening on the campus.

That means more notice to start making a plan, said Crystal Ayco, SNOPAC operations coordinator.

“It’s not a huge amount of time but it’s critical seconds,” she said.

SNOPAC and Everett Public Schools worked together to get the grant. They were part of the company’s development phase for Rave, offering feedback and suggesting changes. That partnership that saved money, Mills said. The schools won’t face any maintenance fees.

Lessons are being applied to emergency planning from the October shootings that left five students from Marysville Pilchuck High School dead, he said.

“The concept is faster dissemination of information,” he said.

That means more details about what exactly is happening being sent to staff, Ayco said. That includes bus drivers, as buses coming and going often add to the confusion during emergencies. Buses could be diverted before that happens, Mills said.

Rave is just one prong of ongoing efforts to improve school security, said Everett police Sgt. Tim Reeves, who supervises the department’s school resource officers. That means more communication among neighboring campuses, even during routine lockdowns, he said.

“It’s all part of the puzzle,” he said.

The more accurate information is available to school officials, the more quickly it can reach families, regardless of what’s being said on social media, Everett district spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said. Recent bogus threats have proven that need.

Everett Community College started using a tool similar to Rave in December to notify staff, students, parents and neighbors during emergencies, spokeswoman Katherine Schiffner said.

Unlike the EvCC program, Rave is not available to the general public.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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