JEFFERSON CITY, Mo — Following a deadly school shooting in St. Louis last fall, the state is offering a free emergency alert app for districts across Missouri.
More than 30% of the state’s school districts have already signed up for the app. It’s designed to streamline emergency response by allowing teachers and other school staff to alert the rest of the school and first responders through their phone within seconds.
“The hope is that it never has to be used, but if it saves seconds, it could wind up saving lives,” communications director with the Department of Public Safety Mike O’Connell said.
Teachers, administrators and staff at more than 700 school buildings across Missouri will start school this fall with a new app on their phone for emergencies.
“Normally, you would call  and give your name and your cell phone location,” chief marketing officer for Raptor Technologies David Rogers said. “This provides an enhanced location, it provides the name of the teacher or staff member that generated it, and it also tells the type of emergency which is really important.”
The app by the Texas-based company, Raptor Technologies, is already being used by a handful of Missouri districts. Thanks to the state, this year, schools can use it for free, saving them roughly $800.
“The idea is to have this quick response mechanism, and this gives school districts who maybe couldn’t afford it, the ability to do it because it’s paid for by the state,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell said since the announcement last month, 114 districts and charter schools are preparing the use the new system this fall. He said some schools were already using a similar alerts system app provided by other companies and may not want to switch over to Raptor Technologies.
Each district will have its own account that will link the alerts to local first responders. Once districts decide who they want to download the app, if there’s an emergency on the school grounds, that teacher or custodian opens the app and selects the icon most relevant to the situation.
“It then sends an alert out to all the staff, administration, first responders, police, so that they are aware of whatever type of emergency is going on, on the campus,” Rogers said. “It also connects you to 911.”
Rogers said Raptor Technologies is used in more than 11,000 schools across the country. Since the start of the app six years ago, there have been 80,000 alerts generated.
“Most of the time it’s weather events, somebody spilt something in the lab, or you have a suspicious character on campus or a fight on campus,” Rogers said. “The majority of the time, most of the alerts that we see that are emergencies are either shelter in place or evacuate.”
The app also offers drills, allowing schools to go back and review the response time.
“The nice thing is that each district can set it up as they like,” O’Connell said They can choose the icons that they want on the screen, they can decide if only teachers or if they are also going to have the custodian staff.”
O’Connell said the different icons districts can use to put on the app include “secure.” An example is if a suspect is holding up a liquor store not too far away from the school, the district can secure the school. “Lockdown,” means if there is an active shooter in the building and “evacuate” is if there is a fire.
“There’s also a button called, ‘team assist,’ which is an everyday emergency like a fight in the hallway or a student is sick,” Rogers said. “You’re able to get the help you need and not call the police or alert everyone on campus about what’s going on, just get the nurse to come or the school resource officer to handle that particular emergency.”
Rogers said the app helped stopped an emergency in Florida last year, when a man showed up at an elementary school with an axe.
“The school did everything right because they saw the guy on camera, the door was locked and he was trying to get with an axe,” Rogers said. “They locked down the school with our application, called 911 through the application and the police showed up and took care of the guy trying to break in.”
The state is paying roughly $1 million a year for three years for the app. Districts that sign up by next Friday will be ready to use it by the time schools start in August. Rogers said districts that sign up by Sept. 11 will be able to start using the app in November.
Also, the budget sitting on the governor’s desk waiting for his approval includes $50 million in school safety grant for school districts to upgrade safety measures in buildings.
Last month, Gov. Mike Parson announced nearly 170 districts and charter schools received roughly $20 million from the school safety grant program from the supplemental budget passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.
Rogers said the biggest school districts so far to sign up for the app includes in the St. Louis area, Rockwood, Parkway, Wentzville and Ferguson-Florissant districts. Across the state in the Kansas City area, Blue Springs, Independence, and St. Joseph school districts will be using the app this fall. In central Missouri, the Jefferson City School District and Columbia Public Schools have also agreed to use the app this school year.
Springfield Public Schools said Thursday, the district is still learning more about the app, but it currently has great a great communication system with the school community through its Springfield Public Schools Police Department, which has nearly 30 officers.
Raptor Technologies is currently in the process of talking with the Joplin School District and St. Louis Public Schools to get the districts on board to use the app this upcoming school year.
School district interested in the enrolling in the emergency alert program can to Raptor Technologies’ website. Once signed up, Raptor will offer training within the district.