Official Wants Panic Buttons Installed in Massachusetts Schools

Proposed pilot program would put secret alarms under teachers' desks.

When it comes to the safety of school children, State Representative Gloria Fox thinks help should be available at the push of a button.

That’s why the elected official submitted a bill calling for a pilot program so that 12 schools in Massachusetts could be equipped with silent panic alarms that would send alerts to first responders in case of an emergency.

After the devastating shooting at Sandyhook Elementary School last December, where a gunman killed 20 children and six others before turning a gun on himself, Fox decided it would be best to take a proactive approach in the Bay State, and try out a safety system that would ensure students could get immediate access to police and firefighters and reduce the risk of a potential incident getting out of hand. “We have had a rash of violent, violent incidents, and it’s not unusual, unfortunately, when one incident happens, for a whole rash of incidents to take place after that. And some of them have been in school facilities,” says Fox.

Fox says after the Newtown shooting she felt as though legislators needed to “respond with as many creative ideas” as possible, one of which was the concept of a silent alarm that could be triggered by faculty or staff at Massachusetts schools without the potential for a suspect to know about it. Fox’s proposal for a silent alarm pilot program, if passed, would put the alarms in at least 12 area schools, both in major cities and in rural towns, she said. “We want to make sure we are being proactive…it’s for the protection of students and teachers, and gives some level of comfort. We want to make sure we are testing this as broadly as we can.”

According to her proposal, the bill would direct the Department of Education to work collaboratively with the Department of Public Safety to create a pilot program to install the silent alarm systems in the schools and link them to the emergency 911 and first responders system within their area. “Whatever the emergency – hold up, break-in or fire – pushing the panic button will notify our monitoring center that something is wrong and urgent help is needed, and will immediately call the appropriate authorities and direct them to the location when a panic button is activated,” according to the language in the bill.

Teachers would also be equipped with hidden panic buttons underneath desks, as needed, or in the form of key fobs and pendants. Fox says she has already begun investigating different companies that may be able to kick start the pilot program at a reduced cost to taxpayers. The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Education, and was scheduled for review during a meeting on Thursday, May 30. “We want to try everything to keep young people safe in our schools. There has been a lot of excitement growing around this,” says Fox.