11:53 a.m. PDT October 22, 2015
School shootings, natural disasters and other crises have left educators wondering what they can do to make students safer at school.
Gervais School District has taken a step toward safety — with a new crisis-response app for smart phones called Crisis Go.
The app initially will be accessible only to district personnel. Parents and community members will get access to a version of the app with limited functions in early 2016, according to Gervais Middle School Principal Ann O’Connell.
O’Connell was eager to improve the safety protocol of the small, rural district when the Gervais Chief of Police told her that the protocol they were using in 2013-2014 was “not worth revising.” They had to start from scratch.
O’Connell, Superintendent Matt Henry and the Chief of Police teamed up to create a new safety protocol for the more than 1,040 students in the district. They based their new protocol off the new gold standard of protocols, developed by the company I Love You Guys.
The founder of the foundation lost his high school daughter in a school shooting in Colorado. Her last text to her parents was, “I love you guys.” Now, he and his wife make school safety their lives’ work.
O’Connell said the protocol is simple and easy to understand, basing its steps on four core responses: lock out, lock down, evacuation, and shelter.
But there was one problem. The protocol was only on paper. In order for a school staff member to have the protocol on hand, they would have to carry it with them everywhere they went, which they didn’t do. Not to mention that they would have to update their physical rosters weekly as the school experiences fluctuation in students.
This would have put the staff and students at risk should a crisis have occurred.
In response, district officials decided to buy the Crisis Go app in the summer of 2015 with the idea that staff are more likely to carry their phones around then a safety protocol clipboard.
The district is in the process of rolling it out to the staff this fall. The app is up and running, though they still have trainings and drills scheduled before everyone is fully ready to use it.
Crisis Go is the organization that developed the app of the same name. Gervais is the first district in the state to use the app.
The app allows staff to send out to alerts, notifications, pictures, video and audio to all others who have the app should a crisis happen.
Additionally, all schools’ rosters are updated nightly on the app, so teachers can take attendance in the wake of a disaster. They can also post updates, in real time, as the crisis progresses and they can access each student’s emergency contact information. The app also provides a checklist of the newly developed safety protocol, a flashlight, siren and maps and floor plans of the schools.
“It’s just helpful to have it all in one place,” O’Connell said.
She added that the app allows staff members to know exactly who is missing, if a student is unaccounted for.
“I can’t even tell you how valuable that is,” she said.
With all these tools now in one place, staff will be able to follow the new safety protocol much closer and more accurately.
“Our number one priority is the safety of the students” Superintendent Matt Henry said.
Henry added that he can’t believe what students have to think about these days in additional to the difficulty of school.
He said he hopes the app allows kids to feel confident and safe that the school is prepared for anything. That way they can get back to their education.
The app poses a lot of benefits, but the district is dealing with some of the initial challenges as well.
While the app is strongly recommended to all staff, they cannot require staff to have the app, especially since not all staff members have smart phones and they would have to download it onto a personal phone. The district isn’t able to provide smart phones to the approximately 100 staff members either, making it impossible for some to access it.
Additionally, there are some complaints that the app drains their batteries, and some worry it might take up too much space on their phones. Those developing the app said they will address these concerns with the newest update.
npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate