All employees in Gwinnett County’s school system will be equipped in the upcoming school year with wearable devices that enable them to call for medical help, assistance with student behavior or even trigger a lockdown in extreme circumstances.
The Centegix CrisisAlert system cost $7 million to implement, with state school safety grants covering the expense. Centegix is based in Atlanta and is in about 60% of Georgia public school districts.
The district demonstrated the system on Tuesday at Parkview High School, which piloted it over the past school year.
The system has two types of alerts that are triggered based on the number of times a user pushes a button. General alerts for medical help, intervention with a student or other situations send a signal to the central office along with computers and smartphones connected to the system.
Emergency alerts trigger flashing lights and a lockdown message that plays throughout the campus.
School district Police Chief Tony Lockard said the new system streamlines the lockdown process. Before, a teacher noticing a threat would have to call the office, which would initiate a lockdown and call police, he said. Now any staff member can start a lockdown immediately.
Other metro districts have reported errant uses of CrisisAlert. In Cobb County, parents have reported more than a dozen instances since August of alerts being issued at schools where no threat was present. In October, district officials reported “human error” causing a lockdown at 11 schools. Inadvertent presses of the badges accounted for roughly 10% of the alerts in Cherokee, Fayette and Henry counties.
Centegix now encourages districts to retrain staff with the badges roughly every six months, company officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a recent report about the system.
Mary Ford, the marketing director for Centegix, said lockdowns account for only about 2% of the system’s use nationwide.
Gwinnett has also expanded the school police force in recent months from 92 to 113 officers. Other new safety features in Gwinnett include a revamped tip line. Students, parents and staff can report issues anonymously via P3 Tips, a system many police agencies use. They can submit tips, photos, screenshots or videos through an app or website. The system goes live the first day of school. People can also call 770-822-6513 or text 738-477 to submit tips or mental health concerns.
Previously, classrooms were equipped with push button locks, and the district plans for all schools to have vestibules that add a second set of doors at the main entrance by the end of the year.
Parkview High School Principal David Smith said the staff feedback from the pilot program was highly positive and recommended full implementation.
“It does give the teachers peace of mind, knowing that they have the ability to call for assistance,” Smith said. “They can activate the staff alert and they know that assistant principals, school police officers or other staff are coming.”