Sheriff pilots 'threat-alert' software at BKW

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Golden Rule days: Berne-Knox-Westerlo second-graders attend class last week in a one-room schoolhouse, where one teacher watched over 11 students, at most. Now, even rural school districts like BKW are large enough that information in times of serious emergency needs to be shared quickly across a campus. BKW is hosting a pilot program for new software for 'real-time threat alerts.'

BERNE — To respond more efficiently to emergencies in schools, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office is testing a new real-time response software used mainly in Texas, on Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s computers.

Teachers and administrators in a school can send an alert from password-protected computers, tablets, or smartphones and update responders during an emergency. The nearest five patrol officers, from any jurisdiction, are notified through the computers in their cars, which display a chatroom with the school’s computers and a map showing the location of the alert on the campus. Screens across the school and at a county dispatch center receive the information.

“It’s all done silently and instantly, so teachers can then take normal customary lockdown procedures,” said Ronald Woessner, chief executive officer of Dallas-based COPsync, the publicly traded company that developed the software, called COPsync 911.

Brandon Flanagan is executive vice president of Brandon-COPsync LLC, the company’s reseller in the Northeast. He offered the software for Sheriff Craig Apple to test at no charge.

“He’s the technology sheriff,” Flanagan said of why he chose Albany County and Apple. “He has an understanding and strong grasp for new technologies and technologies that will better serve public safety and public interest in general.”

Earlier this month, Flanagan told The Enterprise, New Hampshire’s Department of Safety, Homeland Security, and Emergency Management funded a plan of more than $1 million to connect all law-enforcement agencies and school districts in the state with COPsync 911.

Apple said he chose to pilot the software at Berne-Knox-Westerlo because of its role in preparedness training, hosting active-shooter training, emergency medical services and fire drills, and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation lessons for students and staff. 

The software is not yet live at the school, but in test mode, Dave Thomas, the school's information technology supervisor said Friday. This summer, the sheriff will lead administrators through the steps of a drill for an intruder in the building, Interim Superintendent Palmer said, and staff will be trained during the first two days of the school year. As part of their training, Palmer noted staff members will be taught how to identify behaviors, in students, staff, or community members who come to the school, that could get worse and deal with them.

“I think one of the advantages of being small is that everybody knows everybody else and we know when things are off,” Palmer said of Berne-Knox-Westerlo. “Kids come to us very regularly,” he said of students telling administrators when they are having problems.

The software could shorten response times to school fights, a heart attack patient, or the conspicuous example of an active shooter. It is not meant to replace the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch system, but for immediate, life-threatening emergencies.

The entryways at BKW, a rural school with fewer than 900 students, were watched by concerned parents all day each school day following the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012. The incident focused a national debate on gun-control and caused schools to evaluate their security measures.

BKW now has doors that can be monitored and unlocked from a main office. The board earmarked more than $70,000 for security equipment in the 2013-14 school year, which Palmer said has been spent on fixing the school’s public-address system and door locks, updating its key system, and installing about 30 more security cameras in both the elementary and secondary schools.

Palmer, a longtime superintendent, said he pays attention to any news articles on school safety, an issue that is on administrators’ minds more than it was 20 years ago.

“There’s much more about school security because of the media attention to those events…,” said Palmer. He added that, statistically, school violence has been less common in recent decades.

COPsync 911 costs schools $1,200 for the software, at retail price, and a $1,200 monitoring fee each year. But the goal that began the company in 2000 was to have a nationwide network for law enforcement agencies to share information. COPsync 911 is about one year old. The company has also developed COPsync network, which compiles law-enforcement databases and allows immediate communication between agencies. Woessner said it is used in about 450 courts and law enforcement agencies in Texas, and COPsync 911 is used in 440 facilities, mostly schools, in the state. Other agencies in Mississippi, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire have adopted its software.

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