2016-01-08 / Front Page

Schools make call for new alert system

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The RSU 21 board of directors has given the green light to a new emergency alert system designed to lower response time by police to a shooter incident from minutes to seconds.

Although the board agreed at its Jan. 4 meeting that district administration did not require its blessing for the project, Superintendent Kathryn Hawes said she wanted to get assent from directors on the concept because it represents a significant departure from current practices in the event of an emergency situation.

“I think it’s a bold step in terms of increasing our collaborations and increasing our security,” she said. “We will be one of the districts on the forefront in Maine in terms of this system.”

The system in question is called Bran- don-COPsync, which can send an alert triggered from a computer or mobile device directly to police cruisers closest to a school.

According to company CEO Brandon Flanagan, the system can reduce police response time from the 2 to 4 minutes it takes to place a call through the traditional 911 system, to as little as 4 seconds. Along with the emergency alert, the Brandon-COPsync system also transmits the exact location of the caller, and a floor plan of the school building in question.

“It would take us a while to pull up something like that manually, using the system we have now,” Hawes said.

“What we aim to do is reduce the time it takes for law enforcement to get on scene in a critical incident, and then to get them in the building as quickly as possible,” Flanagan said.

The system costs roughly $2,400 per school to install, or $14,400. However, on Dec. 31 Flanagan applied for a corporate grant on behalf of RSU 21 that could cut that fee in half. Annual maintenance on the system then costs about $1,200 per school, per year, Flanagan said.

While exact fees are still being negotiated, district business administrator Bruce Rudolph told school board members Monday that the program could be installed this year.

“Not having the numbers worked out, but with the numbers we’ve seen so far, I think we can work within our contingency fund to implement this right away,” he said.

The system costs about $150 per police cruiser equipped with the app. However, the York County Sheriff’s Office has the system in place, as it is already in use at SAD 57, home to Massabesic High School. Hawes said plans also are underway to install the system in the York County Courthouse.

Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie said he’s also willing to absorb the cruiser installation fee as part of the annual operating budget, given that he is interested in bringing the new alert system to town hall and other municipal buildings.

“It’s a little bit of a cost, but I don’t think it’s a burden,” MacKenzie said. “In fact, I think it’s very cost effective. We don’t need any increase in staff to use it.”

The Brandon-COPsync system is in use at all schools in New Hampshire, and about onethird of schools in Massachusetts. From New Hampshire in particular, MacKenzie said he has heard nothing but praise. “I’m very much in favor of this,” he said. “I’m definitely sold on it.”

The only real concern raised by school board members was whether use of the direct alert system could put the school district in legal jeopardy of any type, should something unexpected happen as a result of contacting police officers directly. In addition to sending an alert to nearby police cruisers, the Brandon-COPsync app also allows officers to communicate directly with school officials on the system during an emergency incident via text messaging.

“It seems we’re bypassing the 911 system,” said school board member Matthew Fadiman, of Kennebunk.

“I don’t believe it increases any liability,” MacKenzie said. “It’s a tool just like any tool in our tool belt to get resources to the scene as quickly as possible.”

School board member Jeffrey Cole, also of Kennebunk, said it would be irresponsible of the board not to move on any system that can get public safety officials to a school emergency as quickly as possible. Far from being concerned with getting in trouble with the state or county for doing an end-run on the 911 system of public safety answering points, or PSAPs, RSU 21 should worry about lawsuits filed by parents if someone ever does try to shoot up a local school, and the building is not equipped with the faster communication method, he said.

“Our failure to implement this now gives us a greater exposure to liability,” Cole said. “I think this is incredible technology and I will support this 100 percent.”

Flanagan said the cost of the system will include hour-long training sessions for all school staffers. He recommends quarterly testing, which can include state police, as well as local officers and county deputies. “We are able to bring together on one platform,” he said. “We started negotiations with the Maine State Police about a year ago and it’s an ongoing dialogue.”

Hawes said she is still negotiating a final contract with Flanagan, but that should conclude soon given the nod from school board members, an action that came quite literally in the absence of a formal vote.

“Based on the nods I’m seeing from around the table, I think you’ve got the go-ahead,” school board Chairman Maureen King told Hawes.

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