Florida education officials are working to encourage K-12 school employees to download an app designed to reduce the emergency response time in the event of a school shooting.
The app, called Alyssa's Alert, provides a panic button that was designed to give 911 centers detailed location information in the event of a mass casualty incident at a school. It's named for Alyssa Alhadeff, one of the 17 people killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. She was 14.
On Oct. 10, 2021, the Sun Sentinel newspaper reported that school employees are reluctant to download it, noting that in the two months since its launch, only 16 percent of eligible school employees in Broward County, the public school district where Stoneman Douglas High is located, have downloaded it.
The newspaper further reported that although figures aren't available for other large school districts in Florida, participation statewide is low. The hesitancy, according to the report, is based on the fear that the app would be used by employers to track people who have it on their phones.
That fear is unfounded, said Jack Dale, chief operating officer of SaferWatch, the technology company that designed the app.
"The application only shares that information when people request assistance," Dale told Snopes by phone. "When they initiate a panic alert, it’s only at that time that it’s sharing GPS location."
In that way, Dale said, the app works similarly to how it works when you dial 911. Emergency communications personnel use location information triangulated from cell phone towers to try and pinpoint a caller's location. But the Alyssa's Alert app sends more accurate information, in the same way other apps, like Google Maps or Waze, can pinpoint a user's location.
Dale pointed out that during a regular 911 call, precious seconds tick by as the operator gathers data from the caller, including figuring out whether the call is a legitimate emergency call. The app cuts through that by verifying users through an invitation and sign-up process, Dale said. It also gives users the ability to use their cell phone cameras to transmit photographs and videos from the scene to first responders.
When downloaded, the app provides a "panic button" that only appears in the app when the user is at a school site.
The app stops sharing data when the reported emergency is over, Dale stated, adding that SaferWatch is in the process of clarifying language in its user agreement to allay privacy concerns.
The app was developed to help districts comply with Alyssa's Law, which was signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020. The law requires school districts to have a mobile panic button.
Huriash, Lisa J. “DeSantis Signs Alyssa’s Law to Require Panic Alarms in Florida Schools.” Sun-Sentinel, 30 June 2020, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-ne-alyssa-law-alhadeff-msd-20200630-yxydm3i5vnfozkkpzzao67pfeq-story.html.
Travis, Scott. “An App Is Designed to Save Lives in a School Shooting, but Many Teachers Don’t Want It.” Sun-Sentinel, 10 October 2021, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/schools/fl-ne-alyssa-law-app-20211010-m2dfoaz76faqrg2tbqos57dc6y-story.html.