2016-01-01 / Front Page

Schools eye new 911 emergency system

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — With mass shootings back in the news, it’s not surprising to find it a topic of interest at local schools. But officials in RSU 21 were working on a new solution long before the Paris and San Bernadino massacres, one that could improve response time dramatically.

According to Superintendent Katie Hawes, she and building principals met over the summer with administrators from the Kennebunk and Kennebunkport police departments, as well as the York County Sheriff’s Office, to discuss a new emergency call system.

That system, made by Texas-based COPsync911, would send an alert directly to the five police cruisers nearest a school when triggered from a computer or mobile device. That way, if someone is roaming the halls of an RSU 21 with a firearm, or other intent to do harm, police can be on the way in as little as the one or two seconds it takes to transmit the emergency signal.

By contrast, Hawes said, it can take three to five minutes to process a call through the traditional 911 system, even when using the so-called panic buttons installed in the main office at each school.

Hawes said after the summer meetings, a school administrative team researched three similar systems before deciding the COPsync911 suggested by local police departments is the best option.

The cost, Hawes said, is $1,200 per year per school, or $7,200 annually for the six RSU 21 schools. The system also costs $120 per police cruiser. However, Hawes said “The police departments are fully willing to cover that.”

“To move from minutes to seconds, when we’re talking about our kids, that’s a bargain at twice the price,” said board member Matthew Fadiman, of Kennebunk. “When we’re talking about 2,500 kids safety, that’s an amazing thing to do.”

The COPsync911 system already is in use at all schools in New Hampshire, and one-third of schools in Massachusetts. It’s also being used in SAD 57, home to Massabesic High School.

“That was a bit disappointing when I heard that, as I thought we would be the first school system in the state,” Hawes joked.

The upside, however, is that the York County Sheriff’s Office would incur no cost if RSU 21 decides to buy into the COPsync911 system, as all of its cruisers are already equipped with the app, to serve SAD 57.

According to Hawes, the system does more than simply call for help. It also would transmit to responding police officers a “real time floor plan” of the school under siege, and allow instant messaging between officers and school officials.

That material and ability is made possible no matter who responds.

“Even if there’s a Massachusetts trooper who is passing through on the highway, it would go to that car,” Hawes said, “but I think that’s good because something like this would be an all-hands-on-deck situation.”

“I think this is a incredible benefit,” school board chairman Maureen King said. “I mean, that we can use whichever one is able to show up first, instead of saying, well, this is happening in Kennebunk, if there are three officers from the Port who are making the turn at that moment right at the town line and are closest to that school.”

At the unanimous urging of the school directors, Hawes will invite officials from COPsync911 to make a presentation on their product at the Jan. 4 board meeting.

Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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