‘Seconds or minutes could mean lives’: Burrillville schools adding tool to alert police in crisis situations

Northwest

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new tool that can quickly alert police to a crisis situation in progress is coming to Burrillville schools in the fall.

Between 2000 and 2019, there were 44 active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools across the country, according to FBI data.

Burrillville Superintendent Dr. Michael Sollitto said his district is working with the town’s police department to implement IN FORCE 911 ahead of the next school year.

“When you’re talking about a possible active-shooter or another emergency situation, seconds or minutes could mean lives,” he said.

According to IN FORCE 911 President and CEO Brandon Flanagan, any teacher or school staff member can send an alert using a smart device or computer. In as little as four seconds, a notification will go out to all teachers, police department cell phones, tablets inside police cruisers and the dispatch center, letting them know there’s a threat.

“We wanted to create an application that would allow law enforcement to get on scene faster, thus mitigating loss of life and neutralizing the threat faster than they would if they used traditional 911,” Flanagan explained.

The system opens up two-way communication between police and school staff and shows the location where the incident is happening.

“There’s no disparaging findings against 911 or our dispatchers. We’re just closing the gap in time to get our police officers into a situation to address a situation,” Burrillville Police Chief Stephen Lynch said.

“This software helps us address other issues of our ability to communicate as quickly and as clearly with those involved in the school day,” he added.

Col. Lynch said it could take minutes for police to respond to the scene of a crisis situation.

“No matter what, that call to 911 needs to get transferred to Burrillville police, and then that communication needs to go out to everyone here at Burrillville police,” Lynch explained. “That takes time, and all while that’s going on, lives are at stake.”

He said the software will be installed at the high school, middle school, Austin T. Levy School, William L. Callahan School, and Steere Farm Elementary School.

Sollitto said the app can also be used as a communication tool between teachers and staff.

Detective Lt. Guy Riendeau, the co-chair of Burrillville Schools’ safety task force, said members were looking for a way to solve communication gaps at times of crisis.

“Whether it be a hazard going on outside or a hazard going in, you don’t want that teacher coming into it,” Riendeau said.

The money for the program came out of the current fiscal year’s operational budget, according to Sollitto.

“We negotiated with IN FORCE 911 on that and signed up for a three-year contract,” he added.

Sollitto said the three years will cost the town $12,500, which is a discounted price because Burrillville is the first Rhode Island community to use the service.

“There is no price tag that you could put on an individual child’s head,” Riendeau said.

Sollitto said they plan to begin training teachers and staff during the first few days of the school year, though he hopes they never actually have to use it.

“We’re in the process of working out some of the logistics with getting the apps installed on our Chromebooks and other devices,” he said.

Burrillville joins at least two other school districts in Rhode Island that use a tool that directly alerts police to an emergency situation.

12 News reached out to every district in the state and several superintendents said they couldn’t share information regarding their emergency response plan. The R.I. Department of Education said it doesn’t track which kinds of programs are in use.

Michael Watson, the superintendent of the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, said IN FORCE 911 is currently being utilized there.

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