District implements SchoolGuard app

SchoolGuard app screen Courtesy of Google Play

SchoolGuard app screen Courtesy of Google Play

Candace Taggart, Features Editor

To improve emergency response times, the district implemented SchoolGuard, an active shooter app and mobile panic button to all elementary and high school faculty during the first two weeks of April.
“I think the app will work well, and I’m glad we have it, but I hope we never have to use it,” Superintendent C.D. Knobloch said. “There’s always something to improve on each year, and we’re going to do just that and keep adding whatever’s necessary for our students and their safety.”
The main screen for SchoolGuard has three white icons with the middle one being the largest. This is the intruder alert button that will send out a message to all local law enforcement and emergency responders, as well as to all faculty as SchoolGuard users.
“It’s an app that gives teachers the ability to have an instant alert for an intruder without having to run to the hallway for a blue pull button,” Karen Brunker, technology director, said. “We’re really ahead of other schools with some of our security measures, so it’s just one more level of protection for us.”
Sophomore Ryan Chumiso agrees with Brunker and said the school’s security measures that were already put in place before SchoolGuard are more than his previous school had.
“It’s a good thing to have this much focus on safety, but it can be annoying,” Chumiso said. “It is helpful that a mobile app has less chance of students messing with it than the blue panic buttons.”
One of the other buttons only dials 911 and the third one is a teacher assist where a faculty member can type a description or message with the alert. Nurse Marsha Boone said this will be very beneficial for all staff, but especially her position.
“Oftentimes, in medical emergencies, you do need a little bit of help because you can’t do everything such as calling the parents of an ill or injured student,” Boone said. “If I’m assisting a student that’s ill, then I need to be hands-on with my mind focused on that, while someone else can be assisting in calling parents.”
In its setup, SchoolGuard has a geofence, which is a perimeter around the school, if the intruder alert was triggered accidnetally outside the school, it wouldn’t work. It also allows people to see the location where an alert went off.
“With a basic and simple set-up, the geofence was the hardest to create because it’s a circle,” Brunker said. “I’ve set it up to include both schools, the bus barn, band practice field, elementary playground, day care and the administration building.”
Knobloch said that it will be an adjustment because in the past, it’s been a rule that faculty members have the ringers on their personal phones turned off, but for SchoolGuard to work, their sounds needs to be on.
“I thought the blue stations were a nice addition when we got those, but when this app came out, I thought, well that gives us more opportunity to get a report out quickly if we have an emergency. It’s more handy as long as the employee keeps their phone on them.”
Freshman Chloe Hibbs said some of the current security measures, specifically the electric locks on the doors can be irritating and suggests that every student have an electric key card.
“The fob system does a good job of keeping strangers out; however, it also inhibits students who have to go back and forth between the elementary and high school buildings or come in from athletics.”
The Texas Education Agency gave out the noncompetitive Silent Panic Alert Technology grant, which is what allowed the district to pay for the $1,000 set-up and a year-long subscription to SchoolGuard. The plan to buy SchoolGuard was already made when the money actually came in late February.
“When the SPAT grant came in, I was getting about a 100 emails a day from similar programs and SchoolGuard was one I was familiar with it because a local school has it,” Knobloch said. “Mrs. Brunker and I had a webinar with SchoolGuard representatives and I hadn’t heard anything negative about it from other places that use it, so that’s the one we went with.”

It’s comforting to know that [the state] does care about the safety of our students and that they’re wanting us to do everything we can,

— Technology Director Karen Brunker

After the first year, it’s about $100 a month to stay subscribed to SchoolGuard. Brunker said maintenance for the app won’t be difficult, and she appreciates the state paying for the initial costs.
“It’s nice that the state wants to do more things and they actually provided the money for it, so we actually weren’t out any money,” Brunker said. “It’s comforting to know that they do care about the safety of our students and they’re wanting us to do everything we can. This app is one more thing that makes an alert more accessible, so that teachers don’t have to fight to get to a blue pull or try to think straight when trying to contact emergency responders.”
Brunker said that setting up the app for teachers has been easier because even some of the “technically-challenged” faculty members haven’t struggled.
“Everybody’s been very welcoming to the app,” she said. “They’ve been able to download the app and get it activated just fine. It’s been nice and not a burden to get people on it. By April 13, we had about 95% of the school setup and ready to use the app, though I hope they never have to.”
On top of the geofence, the app also has a safeguard where after clicking one of the icons faculty have to confirm by scrolling across the screen to either “yes” or “no.”
“We don’t want anything real; we don’t want anything false,” Knobloch said. “You can still receive the alerts outside of the geofence, but you can’t trigger the intruder alert.”
Boone said she believes SchoolGuard will calm most people’s nerves in emergency situations, especially since she can be far away from some elementary classrooms and the upstairs high school.
“In a medical emergency, people are nervous and uptight, adrenaline is pumping and sometimes you might not remember where you’ve stored someone’s information or what to do next,” she said. “A teacher might need some help, but students don’t know exactly what to do, or know the right extension on the phone, and the best they can do is run to the office, which takes a lot of time. In this case, the teacher can get the app open, press the button and evacuate the classroom for a medical emergency.”
Hibbs does think the app would’ve been more helpful in a situation when her classmate had seizure-like symptoms during the school day.
“If any other incidents happen like that, I think this app could get first responders up to the school and classroom faster,” she said.
The app does have other features like the Principal Push where only administrators can send out school-wide messages and a Response Plan page that has a default emergency plan, but can be replaced. Knobloch said he doesn’t plan on focusing on these aspects too much right now.
“There’s all kinds of ways to do bad stuff, as far as guns or weapons of any sort,” he said. “After meeting with a safety committee two to three times this year, we’ve decided there are too many scenarios to plan them all out, but everything we do is to buy time, including the blue pull stations and this app.”
Before getting this app, Boone had to put all her main emergency contacts for the school in a big folder on the home screen of her phone, so she could find them quickly when she needed to. Now, she said, dialing 911 is just pressing one button and moving on with taking blood pressure, blood sugar, helping with a seizure, etc.
“When you’re trying to do everything all at once, it’s a little more difficult to do simple tasks like thumbing through your contacts,” Boone said. “We’ve not had to use the app so far this year and I’m hoping for a healthy, safe end of the school year.”
In the fall semester, a transformer near the school blew and sounded like a gunshot. That sent the whole school into lock down while the sound was investigated. Knobloch said he thinks having this app during that time would’ve quickened response times.
“There were two employees with students on the elementary playground when the transformer went off,” Knobloch said. “They had to run inside quickly to tell anybody, and if they could’ve activated the app, they could’ve told the police force and all employees that they heard a gunshot at a precise location and that could’ve given the alert faster.”
Looking toward the future in school safety, the school has received another grant from TEA that covers most security precautions the school’s already done, but doesn’t cover one measure that Knobloch wants to take.
“The grant doesn’t allow for bullet resistant film for the windows that separate the gym foyer and cafeteria because they’re interior, but I’m going to try and get permission from the state because we already did everything without this new round of money,” Knobloch said. “It’s the same film that’s on exterior windows and the glass on the classroom doors. We also want to put the electronic locks on the cafeteria doors, so if there’s a situation we could make it into a well-protected area.”