Newberry County is the first county in South Carolina to use a new app that connects schools with emergency responders.
“In emergencies, time means lives,” Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Todd Johnson said. “We believe this is going to make a huge difference in our campuses.”
The Panic Button app can notify all school faculty and staff, first responders and command staff within five seconds of an incident.
“While the phone is calling 911, so that the operator gets to the 911 center, it is simultaneously notifying everyone who’s been set up to receive alerts for that campus,” Johnson said. “This is for the rapid notification of the staff and first responders.”
Johnson said active-shooter training suggests a shooter with access to victims can kill every 30 seconds. “We have seen with this app that we’re able to cut three to four minutes off of our response time,” he said.
“This is an incredible resource for the schools, public safety, and the people of Newberry County,” Sheriff Lee Foster said. “Many other schools, hospitals, and public safety agencies are starting to explore this technology but we stand proud to say that Newberry County was the first agency in South Carolina to implement what we are convinced will make our children safer and provide a much faster response to the schools and hospitals should an emergency occur.”
All public schools in Newberry County have the app. Administrators began testing it last year. Since it was rolled out for use at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, it has been used for seven medical incidents and two law enforcement calls.
“We had an assistant principal and school resource officer who were entangled with a student. Neither the school nor the law enforcement radios would work and the assistant principal was able to hit the panic button on his phone,” Johnson said. “There were two officers off-duty out in the car line who got the alert and were inside in less than a minute. Under the old scenario, those two officers who were off-duty would have never known this was going on.”
The panic button feature allows for rapid notification. The feature has five options: active shooter, fire, medical, police or 911. The app also works on wi-fi in areas where cell phone or two-way radios may not work. All school athletic facilities in the county have been programmed into the app, even those that are off-campus.
Each agency or department pays $2,500 annually for the app, which was provided for a discounted rate of $50,000. A 911 reimbursement of 80% covered the difference.
“Which, we think is quite honestly, a steal for what we’re getting,” Johnson said.
Foster said that Newberry County was the first county in the nation to form a partnership including the school district, hospital, and public safety.
“We are very fortunate to have such a positive working relationship with the agencies involved in this collaborative effort to enhance the safety of our schools and campuses. This cutting-edge technology provides our staff members the ability to rapidly report any emergency situation to all first responders,” Newberry County Schools Superintendent Jim Suber said. “We believe that being proactive versus reactive greatly enhances school safety district-wide.”
Other school districts, law enforcement agencies, and medical facilities have contacted Newberry County about the app.
“We are the first to do it but it’s piqued a lot of interest and a lot of people are contacting us for either demonstrations or questions,” Johnson said. A hospital group has asked the sheriff’s office to demonstrate the app at its state conference.