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Wearable panic buttons help us better protect students and teachers

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In Little Rock School District, the second largest district in Arkansas, we serve 21,200 students across 48 schools and centers with a workforce of 4,000 employees. One of the priorities for our district is how we can create and implement the best school safety practices to protect our students, staff and teachers.

We continuously evaluate and improve our systems. Our analysis found that replacing our mobile panic button application with wearable panic buttons for our staff could better support and protect our school communities.

Problems implementing mobile panic button apps for school safety

We initially implemented a mobile panic button app to comply with the requirements of the School Safety Act. The School Safety Act, implemented in 2015, required all schools in Arkansas to use a certain cell phone-based school safety app that allowed staff to report emergencies. When we rolled out the mobile panic button app, we hoped it would help us address security concerns. However, there were immediate, widespread problems with its adoption and implementation. Many employees did not want to add the app to their personal devices and did not see its value. Only 20 percent of our 4,000 employees have downloaded the app. Teachers found that calling 911 was easier than opening and using a mobile panic button app. Employees also shared concerns about privacy and how reliable the app would be in areas of campus without Wi-Fi coverage.

Following the tragic school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022, the governor of Arkansas signed an executive order establishing the Arkansas School Safety Commission. This committee made recommendations for school safety and allocated additional funding to implement them. The recommendations include:

  • Providing master keys to local law enforcement
  • Establishing a program for sharing information about cybersecurity incidents
  • Carrying out routine unannounced security checks
  • Establishing a statewide school safety tip line

To find new strategies and technologies for our district, our superintendent attended a safety conference and learned about wearable panic buttons.

How the wearable panic buttons work

The solution is worn as a staff ID badge, allowing any staff member to quickly and discreetly send a signal for help that immediately reaches administrators and emergency responders. The one-button solution can send alerts to campus first responders, such as an SRO, assistant principal or nurse, or initiate a complete campus lockdown and notify local police or 911 dispatch.

Benefits of wearable panic buttons

Our security team at Little Rock School District began investigating wearable panic button solutions to see if they could increase the percentage of staff members equipped with tools to get help in a crisis. After researching wearable solutions, we realized they offered significant benefits over our mobile panic app, including:

  • Faster and easier to use in emergencies than mobile panic button apps: When seconds matter, our employees don’t have time to search for an app on their phone or remember how to use an app. They may also not always have their phone with them. The portable panic buttons are always on, accessible and easy to use under duress, with a single button to initiate an alert.
  • Addressing privacy concerns: Employees prefer portable solutions because they do not need to be downloaded to their personal phone in order to work. Badge-based options help maintain staff privacy as they do not need to be connected to a personal device. The badges also only share location information after an employee sends an alert.
  • Badge-based panic buttons help reduce response times: Industry-leading wearable panic buttons integrate with advanced safety platforms, notifying emergency response teams of the exact location of the incident on a digital campus map.
  • Full campus coverage: The leading badge-based panic button we selected doesn’t need this cell service or wifi. The badge can also activate full audio and visual communications across campus during an emergency lockdown, notifying everyone on campus of a safety hazard.

Positive reactions to wearable panic buttons from teachers and staff

After we introduced the badge system, teachers and staff responded positively. Our district saw 100 percent user adoption of our wearable, badge-based panic buttons.

In addition to increasing adoption and usage, implementing the safety improvements has been helpful for workforce retention. Many district employees indicate that the mobile panic buttons make them feel better protected and safer at work. The safety technology has also aided our efforts to recruit new teachers.

The implementation of a new workplace safety protocol has had far-reaching benefits for our schools and has enabled us to better support our students and staff.

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