The app that cried wolf

Panic Button app sends false alarm to staff

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MJ Ivy

High school secretary Marti Peel examines the Rave Panic Button app on her phone. It is mandatory that all Arkansas schools subscribe to the app for the current school year, at a cost of $950,000 to the state. The app is designed to alert the necessary officials to a school emergency with just the push of a button.

MJ Ivy

West Elementary principal Dr. Kima Stewart had stayed late on Sept. 30 to finish up some last minute work in her office when she received an alarming text.

Active Shooter reported at HS/HS/MAC and other buildings by Lisa Hughes at 16:26.

“My first thought was, ‘Oh my, I’m all alone and I’ve left the doors unlocked’,” Dr. Stewart said. “Then I thought I need to be out helping.”

This message was received by many of the faculty members of Buffalo Island Central School District through a new app called the Rave Panic Button. Although it was a false alarm triggered by Mrs. Hughes’s son accidentally hitting the app on her phone, it brought up some serious concerns about the app’s effectiveness.

The panic button has become a requirement for Arkansas school systems for the 2015-2016 school year.  It’s an app that teachers can get on their phones, and it allows them to press a button if an emergency were to occur such as a shooter, fire, or if medical or police attention were to be needed at the school. The state has paid $950,000 for the first year’s use of the app, which includes a one time setup fee of $100,000. The app will cost $850,000 for each additional year.

“The app has potential but in all honestly it is not something that should be used or required until the issues are all worked out,” Superintendent Gaylon Taylor said.

When pressed an alert is supposed to be automatically sent out to faculty members and the police. However, it didn’t exactly work that way. The high school has approximately 30 faculty members and only about half of them received alerts.

The Monette Police Department received no alerts at all and only three members of Leachville’s police force were notified of the possible emergency through the app.

“I was in my home cooking,” Monette Officer Kevin Bond said. “I could have simply reached up, flipped the switch and been on my way within five minutes.”

Leachville police officer Chuck Brown said that he received the alert nine minutes after it was sent out because he was in a building with poor cell service. Understanding the potential devastation of a high school shooting, he immediately flew into action and all available officers were heading to the high school campus.

“Knowing this was the school my children had attended and that I knew most of these kids, I braced myself for the worst,” Brown said.

While Brown was en route to the school, the Monette Police Department was contacted by school officials to inform them it was a false alarm. While at first confused due to never being alerted, they then passed the information on to the Leachville officers.

Many teachers that received this alert never even considered that there was an actual emergency. Most teachers reported that they just assumed Mrs. Hughes’s child had been playing with her phone considering it was 4:26 p.m. when the alert was sent out.

Knowing this was the school my children had attended and that I knew most of these kids, I braced myself for the worst.”

— Chuck Brown

Adding to the concerns about the app is the fact that the Mrs. Hughes and her child were at home when the active shooter button was pushed. According to IT director Brandon Jones, the app is not supposed to be triggered off school grounds.

“All of the Monette police force has been added to the list of BIC faculty members to ensure that they receive the alerts along with everyone from the school district,” Jones said.

Hoof Prints attempted to contact the makers of the Panic Button app and Arkansas Department of Education Director Johnny Key to get their view on the issues that had been brought up by the false alarm. As of press time, no responses had been received.

For now, students and staff are concerned about the effectiveness of the app.

“The app could be helpful but it definitely needs to be fixed before we use it or it could cause more problems than it’s worth,” senior McCrae Miller said.

UPDATE – Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key responded to our attempt to contact him via email with the following response: “Process glitches are often [to] be observed during the implementation of new applications of technology.  Rave Mobile Systems, the vendor of the panic button system, is working with school districts and the state to collect the information on these situations and determine solutions.  It is important to note that while there have been some false alarms, the Blytheville School District has reported that the panic button app worked well and saved the life of a district employee who was found unresponsive on the campus.  While it is certainly appropriate to question the expenditure of these funds on a system that may not be working perfectly at the moment, the person whose life was saved, her coworkers, and her family would say that it was money well spent.”