Palm Beach County public schools may add new panic buttons for employees
School board members to vote on emergency alert system on June 15, superintendent says
WPTV | By Matt Papaycik, Stephanie Susskind | June 2, 2022
PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — An important tool to improve safety and security for students and staff members could be coming to Palm Beach County public schools.
Superintendent Mike Burke on Thursday said school board members will vote on June 15 on a new emergency alert system that would allow every employee in all 179 district-operated schools to have a panic button at their fingertips.
“Each employee in all of our schools would get one of these,” Burke said while demonstrating the technology. “It has a little button that you can sound the alarm. And when you do that, the system tells the school police, the school administration, exactly where the alarm is going off.”
Currently, the School District of Palm Beach County uses a cell phone app as a panic alarm.
The new system involves a button on staff member identification badges. If there’s an emergency on campus, with a push of a button, the system can alert school police and local law enforcement agencies exactly where the incident is happening.
The technology, manufactured by the security company Centegix, has been used by the Martin County School District since 2020 in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Burke said once the panic button is pressed, school police will know exactly where to go on a campus.
In addition, the buttons will be tied into the 911 system so local municipalities can respond to emergencies quickly and appropriately.
Calling it an “important investment” in school security, Burke said that, if approved, the technology will be rolled out next school year.
“We have an ongoing commitment to safety, and we are constantly looking for opportunities to further fortify our campuses,” Burke said.
The superintendent of the tenth-largest school district in America said the panic button proposal had been in the works in the School District of Palm Beach County since before the tragic May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
Burke said the tragedy in Texas has caused school leaders to take a step back and see what more may be possible when it comes to security.
“We’ve taken steps over the years to fortify our campuses and harden them,” Burke said, adding that the school district has a “multi-faceted approach to school safety,” including at least one law enforcement officer on every school campus, a single point of entry at each school, card access doors, security cameras and alarms on each campus, mental health professionals at every school, and school-based teams meeting periodically to evaluate potential threats.
“Our officers are trained to not to wait for backup,” Burke said. “They’re trained to go to the threat immediately.”
Burke, a father himself, understands that parents are anxious about the safety of their children and hopes another layer of security will ease minds.
“We’re gonna do everything we can, everything possible to keep our schools safe. It’s got our full attention,” Burke said. “It’s unfortunate that these are the times we’re living in, but schools play an important role in our society and we’ve got to keep them open and as safe as possible.”
In addition to the panic alarm system, the School District of Palm Beach County is also looking to put up guard shacks at all high school campus parking lots and streamline identification badge policies across all schools.
WPTV on Thursday spoke to School Board Member Erica Whitfield who has a daughter in the school district herself and understands the worries and concerns from parents.
Whitfield said the district and new Police Chief Sarah Mooney will continue to work through the summer to see how to beef up security.
“Actually looking at our campuses and seeing if we really have any gaps,” Whitfield said. “We’ve been checking to make sure they are fortified along the way, but going back and checking with fresh eyes to make sure we’re doing that and speaking with the community about any concerns they have.”
With the Martin County School District’s panic alert system, special strobe lights inside each school are color-coordinated for emergencies.
The lights will flash red for a lockdown if the danger is happening on campus, or blue for a lockout of the incident is off campus.
Alyssa’s Law, which was passed in 2020 and named after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff, requires every public school in Florida to have a mobile panic alarm system in place to notify law enforcement in case of an emergency.