1,500 school personnel linked to ‘active shooter,’ emergency app

Posted 6/6/24

Imagine you’re a kindergarten teacher. It’s mid morning, snack time. You know the kids have been waiting for this and so have you. It’s a break for everyone. You give the word and …

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1,500 school personnel linked to ‘active shooter,’ emergency app


Imagine you’re a kindergarten teacher. It’s mid morning, snack time. You know the kids have been waiting for this and so have you. It’s a break for everyone. You give the word and kids are up to get their lunch boxes. Some are showing off what their mothers packed, other are chewing carrots. It’s what you expected and you relax.

Then you notice Kenny is acing strangely. He’s quiet. He hasn’t even opened his lunch box. You call out but he doesn’t look in your direction. Suddenly he slumps on his desk.  You know this isn’t an act. Something is wrong. Might it be an allergic reaction to a student who brought in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Might it be a seizure or another form of medical episode, although there is no mention of that in the student’s record?

Do you call the office and get out the word for the school nurse? The nurse would evaluate the situation and then call for medical assistance. Might that waste valuable time? You could call 911, but then you’d need to alert others in the school.

Instead of dialing 911 on your cell, you open the Rave Panic Button app. Instantly, five options appear on the screen: Active shooter, police, fire, medical and 911. You hold down 911 button for 1.5 seconds. Just as quickly, those on the school campus with the same app are notified you have a problem. They aren’t the only ones. Police and fire responders know the school and where you are located in the building. Help is on the way.

The Rave Mobile Safety system, now a product of Motorola Solutions was introduced in Warwick schools in 2019, but there was widespread suspicion of the technology and how it might be used for tracking. Teachers chose not to install the app and there were so few users that the district dropped the program. With school shootings in the headlines, lockdowns and active shooter drills, attitudes have changed.

That’s part of why more than 1,500 school employees are now linked into the system. Many may not have downloaded the Rave app — it’s entirely voluntary — however, they will still receive notification of a situation. The bigger half of why people are tuned into the system is the emphasis the school administration and in particular Dan Maggiacomo has placed on the program and department communications.

Since the first of the year, he has visited all Warwick schools and conducted more than 48 training sessions with school staff, administrators, transportation officials, the police department, teacher assistants and parents. The goal is to have as many people as are involved with the schools receive messages. They will be notified by text, push notification or email. Only those who have downloaded the app will be able to use it and that is limited to the school(s) where they are subscribers. Additionally, once they leave that school or schools the app is no longer functional, although they would continue to receive notifications.

A retired Warwick Police officer with 20 years on the force, Maggiacomo ran the Citizens Police Academy for years, worked in community policing and trained the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs in security procedures, earning it the distinction of being nationally recognized. As a Warwick police officer, Maggiacomo was no stranger to the schools where he worked with SROs (School Resource Officers), and in youth programs.

He was named the School Department’s first director of safety and security in November 2022, a position funded by a three-year $400,000 School Violence Prevention Program grant. The district is responsible to match 25 percent of the cost of the program.

Maggiacomo did his research and concluded the Motorola system was what Warwick schools needed. He also knew it would take money and training. As he knows best, Warwick schools are the only ones in the state to use the system.  He reasons it won’t be long before legislation requires schools to have alert systems and that implementing it now means the district has the time to properly train and prepare personnel.

To finance a system, Maggiacomo turned to Anne Seisel, the department’s grant writer. Her work paid off. In an email, Paul Heatherton, who has succeeded Seisel, said the department secured funding through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, Stronger Connections Grant to implement the Rave Panic Button App for enhanced emergency response across the district.

Heatherton said the BSCA allocated $1 billion to support schools in creating safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments. Of the total, $4.8 million from the BSCA went to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), of which nearly $500,000 of the competitive grant will be awarded to Warwick over the next three years.

Heatherton explained much of the funds will be used to pay for “subscriptions” to the app and training.

Maggiacomo has taken on the training and implementation of the program with a vengeance. He sought to make their cell phones and the app a first thought for teachers and administrators when faced with an emergency. He’s conducted training sessions in its use.

Establishing the perimeter of the app for each of the city’s schools is part of the installation process. Defining, for example, the boundaries of school athletic fields is part of the job. Then there is the training and the education of school employees, school and parental groups and the agencies that will respond to alerts. Maggiacomo has worked at implementing the system since the beginning of the year, visiting schools. It went operational on May 20 said Heatherton. Since then it has been used three times, but none for emergencies.

The app is only functional on the school campus and personnel within that network it is programed for.

As the Rave website describes, “When any app buttons are pushed key on-site personnel are notified immediately and 9-1-1 is informed of the situation based on the caller’s location and emergency type. Users have access to critical information and receive real-time situational updates that they can take appropriate action. Immediately, 9-1-1  receives critical data about the campus from which a Panic Call is placed – key situational items like caller location, building floor plans, campus contacts and access info – and is given the ability to rapidly message campus employees and first responders.”

What might Maggiacomo tackle once the Rave system is running smoothly?

He notes there will always be a need for training and introducing the system to new arrivals, so, in a sense the work doesn’t stop as it evolves. He said he will turn his focus to emergency procedures school by school. He said individual practices are good, but from he’s seen there is a lack of conformity. “What’s needed is a plan…something comprehensive,” he said.   

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