Northampton schools get high-tech safety improvement

Northampton County’s Sheriff’s Office  and Northampton County Public Schools recently invested in cutting-edge technology to improve school safety.

Law enforcement and school officials worked with Boston-based company, In Force Technology, LLC to install lifesaving school safety technology, called IN FORCE911, throughout the public school district.

The software is a desktop and mobile application that significantly reduces police response time to a critical event at a school, according to Sheriff David Doughty and In Force Technology Chief Executive Officer Brandon Flanagan.

Doughty first found out about the technology at a Sheriff’s Association conference in Hampton Roads in 2016.

“With everything that was going on as far as the incidents across the country with active shooters and threats within our communities and schools, I thought this would probably be something that would be beneficial to our community,” Doughty said.

The software allows school staff to launch an alert in 12 seconds or less from their laptop computer or mobile device, saving critical time over the existing 911 emergency system.

The alert is sent directly to the dispatch center, police and cellphones of officers — giving critical information about the crisis — including the location in the school from which the alert originated and other details.

Additionally, it opens a two-way chat in real time, allowing staff to communicate additional details about the threat to first responders, giving them crucial information as they are responding to the incident.

The technology is in use in more than 60 communities in Virginia and in 13 states, according to a press release.

“Our goal ultimately here is to reduce police response time. We want to be pre-emptive and proactive,” said Flanagan.

He gave credit to Doughty for spearheading the initiative to bring the technology to Northampton.

While the hope is the software never has to be used, Flanagan likened it to investing in fire alarms in school buildings.

“We recognize the need to reduce police response time to mitigate the loss of lives during a crisis. We also know that increasing communication between those experiencing the threat and law enforcement can dramatically shorten the duration of the attack,” he said.

Doughty checked around with other localities that were using the software and “got nothing but positive feedback about the software and how it was working,” he said.

He then approached the public and private schools in Northampton about the idea of implementing the technology.

“They were all very supportive,” he said, but some had budgetary constraints.

Still, Northampton County Public Schools decided to go ahead with the program, which is funded by both the Sheriff’s Office and the school district out of their budgets.

It took about a year to get everything in place to get the software up and running.

The software now is installed on all teachers’ laptop computers at the public schools, and a smartphone app will be in place early next year, Doughty said.

Additionally, the software is on all mobile terminals in Sheriff’s Office vehicles, and other law enforcement agencies in the county — including town police departments, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Virginia Marine Police and Virginia State Police — also are included.

“If there is an intruder threat in one of our schools and this software is open and initiated, then everybody will get a text message on their phone,” Doughty said, adding, “The idea is to get as many law enforcement officers responding as quickly as possible to where the situation is — and also be able to get accurate information, to where when we get there we can go exactly, directly to where the threat is and deal with it.”

The system has been tested multiple times at all three public schools in the county, Doughty said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the staff when we were doing the testing,” he said.

In addition to receiving alerts from school staff, the Sheriff’s Office also can send out a reverse alert to schools in case of an incident or threat in the community.

The Sheriff’s Office also is working with Broadwater Academy, Doughty said.

“I saw the necessity of it and I saw how we could benefit from it,” he said, adding, “You hope it’s something that you’ll never need.”

The Sheriff’s Office also does active intruder training at schools in the county, he said.

In another technological innovation, Northampton residents can download to their smartphones Tip411, an anonymous tip application which is free to download for both Apple and Android phones.

Search “Northampton County Sheriff” to find the app.