The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen PANIC BUTTON: Hot Springs World Class High School Assistant Principal Ben Iverson displayed the Rave Panic Button mobile application, created by Rave Mobile Security, Wednesday for legislative guests during a live demonstration. Members of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus visited the school as school and law enforcement personnel demonstrated how the app is used.

The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen PANIC BUTTON: Hot Springs World Class High School Assistant Principal Ben Iverson displayed the Rave Panic Button mobile application, created by Rave Mobile Security, Wednesday for legislative guests during a live demonstration. Members of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus visited the school as school and law enforcement personnel demonstrated how the app is used.

Legislators make plea for Panic Button app funding

By Jay Bell
This article was published October 5, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

Legislators visited Hot Springs World Class High School on Wednesday to observe a live demonstration of the Rave Panic Button mobile application as they seek to secure funding to continue its use throughout the state.

The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen SCHOOL DEMO: Hot Springs Police Department officer Carl Seymour, school resource officer, explained to state leg...

Members of the Arkansas General Assembly are in Hot Springs this week for committee meetings and other events held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus. Also in attendance were state Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-District 24, and stare Rep. Scott Baltz, R-District 61.

Baltz sponsored Act 950 of 2015, which required public schools to implement Panic Button systems by Sept. 1, 2015, if funding was available. The Panic Button is a school safety and emergency notification system designed to decrease response time of law enforcement and emergency personnel to campuses. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management signed a $950,000 contract with Rave Mobile Safety to provide Panic Button to all public schools.

Hot Springs Assistant Police Chief Chris Chapmond and officer Carl Seymour, school resource officer for the Hot Springs School District, explained the efficiency of the Panic Button app. Officer Chris Shoemaker also works with the district as a school resource officer.

Staff at Gardner STEM Magnet School pressed the Panic Button in March 2016 when three men with what appeared to be rifles were seen near the school.

"You can understand how critical that was to us to put people in place and move in that direction," Chapmond said. "Our first three officers were there in a minute, the next five were there in under five minutes and within the first 10 minutes, we had 30 personnel from surrounding agencies."

The men were later found to be employees of a local pest control company armed with pellet rifles pursuing a squirrel. Chapmond said another false alarm was activated at the high school, but police were able to secure the campus in a matter of minutes.

"An active shooter event only takes 3-5 minutes and if we can't put resources on the ground pushing our assets to the problem, people die," Chapmond said. "That is how important this system is. From our standpoint, from a law enforcement standpoint, we support it."

"Minutes save lives," Baltz said. "Locked doors save lives. We were striving to try to keep our kids and our teachers safe."

The Arkansas Department of Education funded the statewide usage of the app in the 2015-16 school year with unobligated funds. The attorney general's office funded the app in 2016-17 with $850,000 in settlement funds to ADEM.

"We as a caucus, the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus, have had our meetings in Fort Smith, Blytheville and now here in Hot Springs," said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-District 30. "We have seen it demonstrated how well this works.

"Our administrators are committed to it, our kids are committed to it and we, as members of this caucus and a large number of the General Assembly at large."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed a bill in April for the ADE to fund the app for $850,000 in the current school year. The app is still in use in all 1,053 public schools and educational cooperatives throughout the state as the funding is sorted.

Hutchinson wrote to the state Senate the system was initially presented as a pilot project for which individual school districts would later be responsible. Baltz told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette he was informed by a member of the governor's staff the legislation was in jeopardy if he did not vote for a bill intended to persuade out-of-state companies to collect sales tax as remote sellers and remit the collected taxes to the state. He voted against the bill.

"All of us are committed to keeping kids safe," Chesterfield said. "When we think about Sandy Hook, when we think about Columbine, when we think about Jonesboro or Pearl, Miss., we think if we had this in place, perhaps some of those lives could have been saved.

"We urge you, as members of this community at large, to contact the governor's office, to contact members of the general assembly and say, 'We need this program.'"

Cozart chairs the House Education Committee. Black Caucus member state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-District 31, serves as vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.

Geofencing and digital floor plans enable the Panic Button to determine precise locations on campuses for emergency responders to locate. Principal Taryn Echols and Hot Springs Superintendent Stephanie Nehus said they trust the app and the partner agencies who use it.

"We collaborate between the school districts and the emergency management professionals, and we really have a great thing going here," Nehus said. "The thought of losing the funding for this system, it just puts me into overdrive of how am I going to cover it, because it is that important."

Rave added safety precautions to the app to decrease accidental alerts. The Panic Button has been used more than 5,000 times with several instances providing lifesaving aid in school emergencies.

Local on 10/05/2017

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