Traditionally, it can take 30 to 90 seconds to get an entire school locked down during an emergency, said Rainier School District superintendent Tim Garchow.
But that time has been cut down to about five seconds at Rainier Middle School. It was the first in the country to install School Alert, a new program that can remotely lock down and transmit surveillance camera footage to law enforcement — with the touch of a button.
“The faster you get a barrier between your children and a threat, the better,” Garchow said.
On Thursday, officials in the 900-student district demonstrated School Alert during a legislative reception. About 75 South Sound school administrators, law enforcement officers and elected officials attended the event, which included a simulated lockdown and SWAT team exercise.
The app was developed by Tumwater-based Helix Group and can be accessed by teachers and other school staff through their smart phones, tablets or desktop computers.
Once it’s been initiated, school staff can use the program to check in, send student counts and communicate with school administrators and law enforcement, according to TJ Kowalski, executive director of Helix Group.
“It’s complex technology but it’s very simple and easy to use,” he said.
Districts can install the program for about $3,000 per school, Kowalski said.
However, Rainier will get the system for free in all its schools because it’s beta-testing the program, Garchow said.
Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, had the honors of pushing the button for the lockdown drill.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in New Jersey, he co-sponsored Senate Bill 5197 which unanimously passed and requires all districts in the state to work with local law enforcement to develop emergency systems that will expedite response times. State representatives also unanimously passed a companion school safety measure, House Bill 1811.
In addition, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction was allotted $10 million for grants that school districts can apply for when beefing up their security systems.
Dammeier said he likes that School Alert can be accessed on smart phones because emergencies don’t always start in classrooms, or near intercoms.
“If it’s on somebody’s phone, the odds are it’s going to be with them,” he said.