Dennis-Yarmouth schools introduce new system to enhance security

Dennis-Yarmouth Public School officials recently signed a partnership with a company that provides a software application expected to significantly reduce response time from police and provide two-way communication to all staff during a critical event, such as a shooting incident, in any of the district schools.

The Dennis and Yarmouth police departments will be linked up to the system and be able to receive alerts directly from the school staff’s desktop or mobile devices in 12 seconds or less with specific information, such as the room of origin.

The Boston-based company, In Force Technology, says its In Force911 product opens a two-way chat dialogue in real-time allowing staff to communicate details of the threat to first responders. The first responders will have access to floor plans, camera feeds and other emergency detailed information to help them plan the best course of action.

“It takes the guesswork out and can help with decisions on how to act,” company President and CEO Brandon D. Flanagan said in a recent interview at the D-Y superintendent’s office. He said it reduces the response time for both police and staff inside the school.

“We’re very excited we signed the partnership,” Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ken Jenks said. “It’s great for notifications and communication. We can go back and forth, which we hadn’t seen in earlier programs.”

Superintendent of Schools Carol Woodbury said the school district has been using the ALICE decision-making protocol, which stands for: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. “This supports that in a big way,” Woodbury said. She also said the system encourages students if they “see something to say something.”

Flanagan said his program supports elements of ALICE, but added, “Our program is think on your feet” allowing various options. He explained that the software application is loaded onto all teacher and staff computers or smart phones as well as at the police dispatch center, police cars and police chiefs, who can receive texts to alert them to a situation.

Building floor plans and aerial views of the schools will be pre-programmed and show law enforcement the school district address, name of an individual and where they are calling from. The alert can come within 12 seconds or less, rather than minutes with the current 911 system.

That information will help decide the best entry point for police and student rally points. The staff also can give a description of an intruder to the police.

“Everybody else in the building receives the same message that comes up as a message notification,” Flanagan said. Information will be provided after an incident as well to help students reunify with parents.

“Parents love this,” Flanagan said, noting the fear of many parents of sending their children to school in light of what he called “the school shooting epidemic” in this country. “Restoring faith in the community is a big piece,” he said.

In Force911 is being used by more than 60 communities in Massachusetts and in 13 states. Sandwich and Provincetown on the Cape have signed up and Mashpee was expected to sign up soon, Flanagan said. The New Hampshire State Police also are using the program.

The cost of the software is $3,000 per school per year and a smaller fee for the police, he said. “We didn’t want it to be a burden.”

A former police chief who works for the company will provide the training to use the program with police and the schools. Jenks said they plan to run test drills by the end of the school year. He also likes that all the information will be stored securely on the Azure Microsoft Cloud software and will not require reassigning school staff technicians.

Jenks said the system could be a “confidence builder. Having a plan makes everybody feel better.”

Woodbury said the school district already has a good relationship with both towns’ police and fire departments and the high school has had a resource officer since 1988. The schools have had no recent critical incidents, she said.

“We pride ourselves on safe and supportive schools,” Woodbury said. “It one part of the big picture that going to school is good.”