Emergency Management Magazine (Jim McKay)

Brewer, Maine, hasn’t had a mass shooting at any of its schools, but the city plans on being ready if it were to happen.

The city is developing a “safety road map” for such an event and part of that is the installation this summer of In Force911, a desktop and mobile application that allows school staff to launch an alert in seconds rather than the several minutes it usually takes to convey the threat via the 911 system.

In Force911 offers two-way communication, a chat dialog, with dispatchers and police cruisers or police with cell phones in real time and provides access to floor plan, IP-based camera feeds and other emergency information.

“What this product does is it acts like a chat log in some ways,” said Jason Moffitt, Brewer director of public safety. “Say, in the east wing of the building, you have 15 teachers issuing an alert that says there’s a man with a gun outside the school. Police can actually scroll through this data and see Mr. Smith in Room 202 is reporting a man with a gun outside.”

Moffitt said that not only is the alert quick and in real time, but the information also stays on the screen and can be referred to by police. And even if it’s coming from a multitude of sources, say 15 teachers from a school, it shows up in one chat log.

“The alert is issued instantly so there’s no lag time,” he said. “The way it normally works is that a designated contact person would have to call 911 and that’s got to go to the call center, then get dispatched to us.”

Moffitt said during a situation like an active shooter scenario at a school, it’s imperative to eliminate “red tape.” He said empowering teachers to issue an alert without having to go through too many steps could be critical. “In my opinion, rather than having to check with this person, talk to the principal, etc., the best practice should be, if a teacher sees a person with a gun or something of that magnitude, they should be empowered to issue a lockdown and go from there.”

It also allows for mass notification, which Moffitt said would have been useful during a search of a person with a gun a few years ago. “We were pursuing this person in the woods behind one of the schools. We could easily have issued that reverse notification had we had the software then,” he said. “Instead there were multiple steps we had to go through.”

In Force911 is new this year, launched by In Force Technology and, according to a press release, the product’s presence has reached more than 60 communities in 13 states. “We recognize the need to reduce police response time to mitigate the loss of lives during a crisis,” In Force CEO and President Brandon Flanagan said through in the press release. “We also know that increasing communication between those experiencing the threat and law enforcement can dramatically shorten the duration of the attack.”

Brewer’s installation of the technology will take place this summer when school is out. It’s part of an effort to prepare for an active shooter situation and any other dire scenario that might occur.

“We were asked by the city council to present on where we’re headed with our safety planning in the city,” Moffitt said. “They want to see that we’re doing something that they can tell the public about.”

The planning also includes more training for teachers, including trauma care training, and a way to assess the risk of a possible active shooter situation. “As a police officer, I’m assessing risk all the time,” Moffitt said. “We need to find something for that in [active shooter] cases. What happens is you get copycat threats and we have to take them all seriously, but you have to have the ability to do a formal threat assessment with each case to make the decision about how to deploy resources and deal with the threat or individual.”