County schools embrace new emergency technology
HOULTON, Maine — A number of Aroostook County schools will now have an extra layer of security to protect them in the event of an emergency thanks to an innovative new program.
Shawn Gillen, chief deputy of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office, said on Wednesday that his department has purchased In Force911, a life-saving, threat alert and real-time communication application that allows faculty and staff to communicate directly with law enforcement in the event of a school emergency, such as an active shooter on campus.
Gillen said that after being impressed by demonstrations he had seen of the product, he approached the Aroostook County Chiefs of Police Association last year with the idea of implementing the program in regional schools along with local, county and state public safety dispatch centers.
“The whole idea is to enhance real-time communication and improve the efficiency of a coordinated law enforcement response to life threatening situations at our schools,” he said. “The group agreed, and with the work of Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency Director Darren Woods, the program was purchased with funds from the Department of Homeland Security.”
According to Gillen, in the event of an emergency at a school, staff can click on a device such as a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone and reach public safety dispatch centers and individual police officers in their area within seconds. Doing so lets police know the name of the teacher who sent out the alert and from what room, and allows the teacher to communicate information about the threat.
“For instance,” said Gillen, “the teacher can type to law enforcement in real time that the suspect is wearing a red shirt and blue jeans and is heading down the west hallway. And every law enforcement officer and everyone in the school sees that. On the other end, the dispatcher can type information to the people in the school, such as ‘lock your doors.’”
Gillen said that he especially liked the communication aspect of it for law enforcement.
“As we have seen in past school shootings, the scenes are so chaotic,” he said. “What I like about this is the fact that it allows real time communication. If, for instance, an officer is able to go around one side of the building and help students escape out the window, he can type, ‘class 202, out the window, hiding with deputy in the west ridgeline.’ That really reduces miscommunication and cuts down on the risk that people are going to get hurt because of it.”
In Force911 also allows dispatch centers and responding officers to access aerial views and floor plans of the schools. Gillen said that all but two of the school districts in The County have embraced the program and he believes that those that initially did not soon will do so.
The Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office is the administrator of the In Force911 program.
“While we pray this technology is never needed, I believe we have an obligation to be as prepared as possible for the unthinkable,” said Gillen.