Education officials in Florida are working to encourage employees at K-12 schools to download an app designed to reduce emergency response time in a school shooting.
The app, called Alyssa’s Alert, provides a panic button designed to give 911 centers detailed location information in the event of a mass casualty incident at a school. It’s named after Alyssa Alhadeff, one of 17 people killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She was 14 years old.
On October 10, 2021, the Sun Sentinel newspaper reported that school employees are reluctant to download it, noting that in the two months since its launch, only 16% of eligible school employees in Broward County , the public school district where Stoneman Douglas High is located, have downloaded it.
The newspaper further reported that although figures are not available for other major Florida school districts, statewide attendance is low. The reluctance, according to the report, is based on fear that the app would be used by employers to track people who have it on their phones.
This fear is unfounded, said Jack Dale, COO of SaferWatch, the technology company that designed the app.
“The app only shares this information when people ask for help,” Dale told Snopes over the phone. “When they trigger a panic alert, only then does it share the GPS position.”
This way, Dale said, the app works the same as when you dial 911. Emergency communications personnel use triangulated location information from cell phone towers to try to locate a caller. But the Alyssa’s Alert app sends more precise information, in the same way that other apps, like Google Maps or Waze, can locate a user.
Dale pointed out that on a regular 911 call, precious seconds go by as the operator collects data from the caller, including to determine if the call is a legitimate emergency call. The app fixes this by verifying users through an invite and sign up process, Dale said. It also gives users the option of using their cell phone’s camera to transmit photos and videos of the scene to first responders.
Once downloaded, the app provides a “panic button” that only appears in the app when the user is on a school site.
The app stops sharing data when the reported emergency is over, Dale said, adding that SaferWatch was in the process of clarifying the language in its user agreement to assuage privacy concerns.
The app was developed to help districts comply with Alyssa’s Law, which was signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in 2020. The law requires school districts to have a mobile panic button.
Huriash, Lisa J. “DeSantis signs Alyssa’s law to require panic alarms in Florida schools.” Sun-Sentinel, June 30, 2020, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-ne-alyssa-law-alhadeff-msd-20200630-yxydm3i5vnfozkkpzzao67pfeq-story. html.
Travis, Scott. “An app is designed to save lives in a school shooting, but many teachers don’t want it.” Sun-Sentinel, October 10, 2021, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/schools/fl-ne-alyssa-law-app-20211010-m2dfoaz76faqrg2tbqos57dc6y-story.html.