WASHINGTON -- This week's stabbings at a suburban Pittsburgh high school have school systems assessing whether their security protocols could deal with, or head-off future tragedies.
"Seconds matter when it comes to securing a building," says Lee Mandel, owner of IntraLogic Solutions, of Massapequa, N.Y.
Mandel's New York company developed new technology software that could enable a school to accomplish all the tasks involved in instituting a security lockdown with the press of a single panic button or touch of a mobile device.
Work on the system began in earnest after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
"You want to have multiple ways of initiating a lockdown," says Mandel. "We place panic buttons throughout the building, where administrators or anyone else who sees an emergency can press the button."
In addition to large red and blue buttons, hidden wired or wireless panic buttons can trigger the lockdown.
"We can install an application on administrators' iPhones, iPads, or other mobile devices," says Mandel.
What happens automatically during a school lockdown?
Initially, an announcement is made on the school's public address system.
"Typically it's in the principal's voice, saying 'We're in a lockdown,'" says Mandel.
Perimeter doors are secured, so people can't enter the building, and strobe lights are flashed on the perimeter doors so people returning to campus are alerted to the lockdown.
All computer screens in the school display a lockdown message.
Police are automatically contacted and given the location of where the alarm was initiated.
"If someone presses a panic button in the principal's office, we'll notify police it came from the principal's office," says Mandel. "Police can have access to see live video of the situation, and even push it out to patrol cars so they can see what they're getting into, in real time,"
Simultaneously, parents are notified with a predefined text message.
Making the panic buttons readily accessible comes with some challenges, says Mandel.
"There is always the potential of false alarms, just like the possibility of false fire alarms," says Mandel. "Typically an example is made of the student or person who does make the false alarm."
The automated system greatly reduces the time currently required to institute a lockdown, says Mandel.
"Currently, they may have to make an announcement, manually go lock all the doors, contact police by dialing 911. Typically they have to send a text message to parents which means they have to log into a website, type the message, press the send button. All these procedures could take several minutes and could also put the person who sees the lockdown in harm's way."
Mandel says the person witnessing the emergency or initiating the lockdown shouldn't be put in jeopardy.
"God forbid you're held at gunpoint, you don't want to have to think 'What do I do?'" Mandel says. "You want to press, run, and secure yourself."
How expensive is the system?
Mandel says the one-button lockdown system, which was recently unveiled at the National School Board Association conference in New Orleans, doesn't require substantial investment in security hardware.
"It's primarily a software-based solution, so 90 percent of it can be done via software," says Mandel. "It's generally under $10,000 a building."
The software works with pre-existing security camera and card access systems.
"The investment that the school has in their current security equipment does not have to be replaced, it can be re-utilized," says Mandel.
See the company's demonstration of the what happens when the one-button lockdown system is initiated:
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