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New panic alarm app would launch in April, be optional, Wake school officials say

A new “panic button” app will launch in April at 28 Wake County schools to employees who opt into it, leaders told the school board’s safety committee Tuesday.

The RAVE Panic Button helps school staff signal an emergency with the press of a digital button on their phones. The app also contains emergency plans, connects with first responders, and allows employees to mark whether they need help. With the press of a digital button, the app can locate the emergency and provide warnings for nearby areas.

It’s intended to work for medical emergencies and active assailants, and users can communicate about a private medical emergency without activating a schoolwide alarm.

Students won’t be able to use the app.

Downloading the app will be optional for employees because the school system doesn’t provide smartphones to most employees. People who have smartphones can choose to download the app. The company doesn’t produce a desktop computer application.

School board members said they were concerned that the app would be optional.

“If it’s to enhance security and safety in schools, in my opinion, it shouldn’t be optional,” Board Member Tyler Swanson said.

But district officials said the app is optional nationwide for one reason — that districts can’t compel employees to download apps on their devices. But schools have had wide buy-in among staff anyway.

“When folks utilize it and realize how good it is and how fast it is, it’s going to sell itself,” said Kendrick Scott, district senior director of security.

The district consulted with three other school systems that have already used the app, said Juan Cuartas, the security office’s director of special operations. In those districts, many employees downloaded the app in the beginning and spread the word to their colleagues, leading to widespread adoption.

If people don’t have a smartphone, they can still sign their cell phone number up for notifications of an emergency, Cuartas said.

Swanson cautioned that the app may not work for everyone if they work in a part of a school building with poor wireless Internet connection or cell reception.

Figuring out the ways in which the app doesn’t work smoothly is part of the pilot program process, Scott said.

“If something works well, or doesn’t work well, the district can provide feedback to Rave Wireless to improve it in the future,” he added.

The school system plans to pilot the app at 28 schools during the fourth quarter of this school year, then evaluate how well it works and collect feedback. Officials plan to return to the school board this summer with a recommendation on how or whether to expand the app into all of the district’s schools.

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