Safety & Security

Taking the Panic Out of Panic Buttons

In recent years, installing panic buttons in schools has become an increasingly popular topic and response to improving school safety. There are even recent campaigns for panic button systems to be legally required in schools. In February 2019, “Alyssa’s Law” was signed by Governor Phil Murphy, requiring “public schools in New Jersey to install panic buttons in every building to silently alert law enforcement to emergencies or life-threatening situations on campus.” Now as Alyssa’s Law is making its way through Florida’s government, the discussion around panic buttons and how they are able to improve school safety is growing.

When it comes to school safety, it is integral that first-responders, administration, and staff understand exactly what is happening during an unfolding situation. To do this, first responders, administration, and staff have to be aware that an emergency situation is even occurring — this is where panic buttons are best leveraged. Despite the name, panic buttons are designed to take the panic out of a situation. As instincts kick in, a trained employee can have direct and easy access to alert or summon people for help quickly and discreetly with the push of a button. However, before a panic button is ever triggered, it is pivotal to understand exactly what the desired outcomes and next steps are, as well when it’s necessary to use a panic button.

Many schools employ panic buttons as a reactionary response to an undesired event. After all, panic buttons are used as a reactionary safety measure, so this is not surprising. However, it is important that we think beyond the panic button, and address the strategies put in place after it’s pushed. For instance, not every situation will require the same response, so it is necessary to think through every scenario that panic buttons will be used for. But where do you start?

At the end of the day, everyone is responsible for student and school safety, which is why it’s important to hear the voices and concerns of the whole community when it comes to forming a comprehensive safety plan. The concerns of students, parents, teachers, and first responders will all look a little different — but each perspective can add something valuable that another group may not have considered. Once these voices are heard, a school should be able to determine every scenario they will use panic buttons for — physical fights, medical emergencies, intruders, etc. — and then they can plan out each situation’s proper and unique response.

But simply giving every teacher a panic button isn’t enough. Their effectiveness relies on well-established protocol and the methodical escalation of information. For example, if a student begins to have an allergic reaction, that garners a very different response than an intruder entering the school. In this scenario, the school doesn’t need to go into lockdown, but help is still needed as quickly as possible. So what are the next steps after a panic button is triggered for an allergic reaction? Who is alerted? What are they told? How do they know where to go and what to bring?

These questions all need to be considered and answered to formulate the most effective response plan. If the purpose of installing panic buttons is to decrease response times during an emergency to protect students and staff, it’s equally important that the response to a panic button is streamlined, fast, and smart.

It’s also important that everyone understands what the proper procedures or protocol is in these situations. Even if there is a plan for a lockdown when an intruder enters the building, it’s not exactly helpful if students, staff, responders, and parents aren’t all on the same page. Once a procedure such as a lockdown goes into effect, everyone is responsible for knowing where they should go, what they should do, and understand what is happening. Regardless of whether a well thought out response plan is formulated, it will only be successful if properly carried out by the whole group. This is why it’s integral that schools communicate what is expected of each person involved in or affected by these emergencies.

When proper procedures are in place and everyone is aware of how to follow them, panic buttons can still fall short if they aren’t supported by the right software or platform. Much like a match is to a fire, a panic button is to a safety plan: a spark. Without good kindling, a match is useless, and without the proper foundation, a panic button is useless. The panic button only has one function — trigger a response — so even when a well thought out response plan is in place, for people to be able to execute it, the panic button’s system must work.

Installing panic buttons is not a solution within itself, it’s just the beginning. It is important to think beyond the panic button and recognize they are only one component to achieving an effective and comprehensive school safety plan.

About the Author

Amy Jeffs is the Vice President of Status Solutions, a risk management and situational awareness technology company.

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