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Texas lawmaker introduces school safety panic alert bill


AUSTIN (Nexstar) – In the aftermath of Uvalde, two of the state’s top Republicans signaled that certain school safety measures would be a priority this legislative session, making some lawmakers more optimistic about bills passing. legislation that they have not been able to pass in the past.

For a second consecutive session, Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, introduces the ‘Panic Button Bill’ – legislation that would require schools in Texas to have alert devices with technology which would immediately notify EMS, law enforcement and other first responders in the event of an emergency.

Her bill is modeled after Alyssa’s law, which is named after one of the victims of the Parkland high school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead. The purpose of the law is to address the delay in law enforcement response due to slowed secondary communication between teachers and administrators and 911 operators and first responders. Florida and New Jersey have passed these laws.

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

“Time equals life – in minutes, in seconds. It all makes the difference between saving a life,” she said.

In the 2021 legislative session, Thierry’s bill crossed party lines in the House but died in the Senate. This year she is working with Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and feels more confident about her adoption, especially since President Dade Phelan and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have mentioned security at the school among their top priorities.

“What we saw in Uvalde was tragic. But what made the situation even worse was that we heard stories of children aged 9 and 10, crouched under their desks, using their own personal cell phones trying to contact the police to tell them that they were alive,” she said. “This technology allows you, in an instant, to basically press a button and immediately communicate in real time with first responders and they can track your location.”

How Panic Button Technology Works

Theirry’s legislation does not require school districts to adopt a certain make or brand of panic alert systems.

A private company that created a panic alert system, Centegix, 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 district and first responders, with the goal of streamlining communication and putting everyone in lockdown as quickly as possible. (Credit: Nexstar/Monica Madden)

Attached behind a teacher’s identification lanyard they wear to school, the Centegix badge has a button that users can press in an emergency. For medical emergencies, teachers press it 3 times and it notifies administrators and local responders of the situation.

In the event of an active shooter, users continue to press the button until they hear the alarm system go off. Immediately, the warning lights installed in each classroom, hallways and other parts of the school begin to flash. Everyone in the building will quickly become aware of the need to lock down and local responders will be notified, with an exact map and location of where people are in the building.

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

Most school districts have alert app systems on their cell phones for use in an active shooter situation. However, Connelly said this can be inconvenient as the apps rely on a WiFi connection and often many teachers don’t even download it to their personal phones.

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

The Texas House Special Investigative Committee that analyzed the failed Robb elementary school shooting, which killed 19 children and two teachers, cited the apps as a faulty method of communication. Due to poor broadband connectivity in the area, not everyone in the school immediately received an alert about the shooter.

“When you’re in an emergency like this, it’s hard to remember what to do. Even though we train our kids and our staff on how to do a lockdown, sometimes you get stressed and you get in shock,” Connelly said. “So it gives everyone the chance to get behind a locked door and in the safest place.”

As a parent of two sons, Lake Travis dad William Fullerton just wants reassurance that his kids are safe when he drops them off at school. He hopes that lawmakers will pass Thierry’s bill, but also that districts will provide more information to parents about the safeguards in place for Texas children.

“We have A to F accountability standards in Texas for academics and school district finances, and both of these systems provide incredible transparency for parents,” Fullerton said. “I think the same level of transparency and accountability belongs to school safety – parents, taxpayers, educators, all need to know how safe these schools are.”

What is the price of these devices?

According to Thierry’s 2021 bill tax memo, requiring this in schools would cost the state of Texas about $20 million, which the tax memo says would not create a “significant tax implication” on the budget. .

Thierry says she has also worked to get this money before by getting money through grants.

“We have more dollars coming this term, our School Safety Allowance will be able to cover the costs for that if there are additional costs,” she said. “It’s just really important for schools to understand that they need all the tools in the toolbox. We don’t want to look back a day later and say “if only we had that”.

Installing warning systems like Centegix is ​​expensive, but Connelly notes that it’s a quick one-time payment and that there are grants school districts can apply for.

While some critics say this technology is mostly reactive and doesn’t address why school shootings happen, Theirry said the legislation would still be a good start.

“You can’t let perfection get in the way of good,” she said. “It’s just another way to ensure that our teachers and children aren’t sitting in a silo in an emergency, unable to truly reach the outside world.”

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