Several states are looking to boost security measures with new panic alert buttons, as the new school year is about to begin. Critics warn, however, that such costly steps will not be effective.
School shootings including those in Parkland, Florida in 2018 — and more recently this year in Uvalde, Texas — have led to increases in systems like CrisisAlert, which allow teachers to sound alarms and initiate lockdowns.
Ken Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, dismissed these systems as nothing more than “security theater.” Rather than expensive measures, he suggests training staff to make sure doors are not open, and to implement basic safety protocols.
“People want visible, tangible things,” Trump told The Associated Press. “It’s a lot harder to point to the value of training your staff. Those are intangibles. Those are things that are less visible and invisible, but they’re most effective.”
CrisisAlert, meanwhile can cost schools $2.1 million over a five-year period.
That’s what Kansas City’s Olathe Public Schools spent, but director of safety services Brent Kiger insisted that this “isn’t a knee-jerk reaction” to an Olathe high school shooting in March. He claims he had already been considering the system before then, and argued that it can be beneficial.
“It helped us kind of evaluate it and look at it through a lens of: ‘We’ve been through this critical incident, and how would it have helped us?’ And it would have helped us that day,” he said. “There’s just no question about that.”
The system has enjoyed much success in the past year. CrisisAlert’s maker, Centegix, announced in May that in the first quarter of 2022 demand has gone up 270% since a year before.
CrisisAlert is not the only panic button system. Back in 2015, Arkansas unveiled a smartphone app that more than 1,000 schools would be able to use to contact 911.
Lori Alhadeff started the Make Our Schools Safe organization after her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa died in the Parkland shooting. Her efforts included pushing for panic buttons. Not longer After, her home state of Florida passed Alyssa’s Law, which required schools to have them. New Jersey did the same.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul required schools to at least consider alarm systems after the Uvalde shooting, and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered schools to put in panic buttons.
National Association of School Resource Officers executive director Mo Canady is firmly against panic buttons, cautioning that they can lead to false alarms or pranks, without yielding positive results.
“In throwing so much technology at the problem,” Canaday told the AP, “we may have unintentionally created a false sense of security.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.