It’s a threat many people didn’t give a second thought before the horror that unfolded 20 years ago this month when two teenagers gunned down a dozen classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Two decades later, school shootings are a very real concern, and some Southern New England communities are turning to technology to keep kids safe.
Just last month, a young man threatened to come to Attleboro High School armed with a weapon and shoot to kill. The disturbing social media post turned out to be a hoax, but Attleboro’s mayor told NBC 10 News he believes the larger threat is very real.
“The probability of a school shooting is so low. It’s extremely low. But the consequence is extremely high,” said Mayor Paul Heroux.
That’s why Heroux wants to install new technology in all nine of Attleboro’s schools that would detect the sound of a gunshot and automatically call the police. Such a system could cost as much as $700,000 to install in the city’s schools, and $40,000 per year to maintain.
It’s money the mayor believes would be well spent.
“Reducing that response time is what’s going to save lives. There’s no question about that,” Heroux said.
To prevent a shooting from occurring in the first place, Heroux also wants to install a scanning system that could spot weapons inside bags or backpacks, without using traditional metal detectors.
“We don’t want to make the school department look like airport security or prison security when you’re walking in,” he said.
A few miles away in Somerset, schools are taking a different approach to reduce response time, one that starts with teachers and other adults using their smartphones and computers. The system, from InForce 911, can summon police directly to a school within 12 seconds. It cost about $4,000 per school to install the system in Somerset schools.
“So, it’s very much human-based,” CEO Brandon Flanagan told NBC 10. “Those are the eyes and ears in the building anyway.”
Flanagan said adults can launch an alert in many types of situations, and can also receive alerts from police if officers are aware of a dangerous situation near a school.
“It could be an intruder in the building. It could be the threat of a weapons attack. It could be an active shooter. It could be a bomb threat.”
One a teacher or staff member launches an alert, every officer on duty in Somerset sees it — without anyone having to call 911.
“With InForce, it allows us to know exactly where the threat is within the school,” said Chief George McNeil of the Somerset Police Department. “It’s instantaneous because it goes directly to the police officer on patrol.”
Flanagan said InForce 911 is in talks with several Rhode Island school districts who are looking to install the same technology in their classrooms as well.
NBC 10 talked with Rhode Island State Police Captain Derek Borek, an expert in school shootings. He agreed response time is key.
“If we can get in there that much quicker, then we’re going to save as many lives as possible,” Borek said. “The [technologies] that are proactive are the ones that are going to help us. The reactive ones, not so much.”
Beyond technology, Borek said creating the right culture is vital so that kids feel safe talking to adults at school and at home.
“Parents have to have a good relationship with their child, to ensure that that kid feels safe to go to their parents and say, mom and dad, I don’t feel comfortable,” Borek said.