Pulaski County officials want to see if an app-based alert system will trim minutes from the response time to school shootings and other worst-case emergencies.
And Montgomery County, which for two years has used an app alert system in its schools, is expanding its use to the county’s government offices.
In both counties, the idea is that teachers and staff members will have a sort of panic-button that lights up the smart phones and computers of law enforcement officers, bypassing the traditional emergency dispatch network.
“It basically allows for a quicker response time,” Pulaski County School Board Chairman Timothy Hurst said recently.
Pulaski County Sheriff Mike Worrell wrote in an email that with the new app system, sheriff’s deputies, Pulaski and Dublin town police, state police and Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries officers at Claytor Lake all would be scrambled to respond instantly — even off-duty officers — if someone triggered an alert.
“Our number one goal is to get to the school and eliminate the threat, and response time is the number one factor to decrease the loss of life and injuries,” Worrell wrote.
The system that Pulaski and Montgomery counties are using is called In Force 911 and is a product of Massachusetts-based In Force Technology. The same system is in place in Bedford, Amherst and Northampton counties, according to the company.
Brandon Flanagan, In Force’s president and chief executive officer, said his company’s app will provide an array of information to officers responding to a school shooting or other emergency. The app basically creates a group messaging network between officers, teachers and staff and lets everyone share information about the specific location or particular details about an event.
For example, teachers could identify exactly what part of a school they are hearing shots or seeing an intruder in, Flanagan said.
Additionally, the app can be pre-loaded to give officers access to floor plans and the feeds from security cameras in schools and other buildings, Flanagan said.
“We want to connect teachers and staff directly to the sheriff’s office,” Flanagan said. The hope is that a faster alert and better information will let officers arrive while an incident still is occurring — “to mitigate the threat,” Flanagan added.
Asked if the app had been used in an actual emergency, Flanagan said that it was used earlier this year to report an intruder at a Massachusetts school system.
In Montgomery County, the app has not been used in an emergency, schools spokeswoman Brenda Drake wrote in an email. But there have been several false alarms, she added.
Drake said that the Montgomery County system is configured so that an emergency dispatcher also receives an alert and confirms that a response actually is needed.
Similarly, in Franklin County, where schools use another app-based alert system called COPSync911, cats walking on the keyboards of staff members’ computers — when the computers were at home, not at schools — were blamed for several false alarms, Superintendent Mark Church said.
In one notable instance, “the cavalry came in,” though it was after school hours and the building was locked up, Church recalled. The alert had come from a computer “registered to a school that wasn’t open,” he said.
COPSync911 initially was used in Montgomery County schools as well, and was sold by Flanagan.
Almost three years ago, Flanagan, who at the time ran a company called Brandon-COPSync, made a presentation to Montgomery County officials that convinced them to purchase the earlier system. Montgomery County schools later transitioned from COPSync911 to In Force 911.
Flanagan wrote in an email that the two apps are quite different. The new system has “features and functionality that far surpass” COPSync911, he wrote.
COPSync, the Texas-based developer of COPSync911, went bankrupt in 2017. Ongoing lawsuits filed in federal courts say In Force 911 infringes on trademarks of the earlier system and dispute various business transactions tied to Brandon-COPSync and the licensing of the earlier product.
Flanagan wrote in an email that he was confident his new company and the In Force 911 app would continue to grow.
Drake, Worrell and Kevin Siers, superintendent of Pulaski County schools, said they also have confidence in the In Force 911 app and see it as a valuable safety tool.
Montgomery County’s school system presently pays $24,000 per year for the app, Drake said. Capt. Brian Wright of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said his agency paid $3,375 this year for the app.
Pulaski County schools will pay $17,000 per year to use In Force 911, and the county sheriff’s office will pay $600, Siers and Worrell said.
They noted that the county has a yearly contract with In Force Technologies and that the price is locked in for three years.
Worrell said that the app’s relatively low cost could bring a tremendous benefit for agencies trying to respond to a school shooting.
“It’s one of those things where the premise sounds really good,” Worrell said. “We hope we never have to use it. But if it’s available, we want to test it out.”
Pulaski County plans to install In Force 911 on phones and computers this month. Montgomery County should have the app’s use expanded from schools to all county offices, county spokeswoman Jennifer Harris wrote in an email.