Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed legislation Monday for a $2 million bond to cover licensing for county school districts' access to a smartphone-based app. He spoke about Rave, the mobile app that alerts first responders to an active shooter situation or other emergency, at a news conference at Kings Park High School. Credit: James Carbone

Schools in Suffolk County will now have free access to a smartphone-based application that alerts authorities in the event of an active shooter or emergency situation, county officials announced Monday.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed legislation for a $2 million bond to cover the licensing of the Rave Panic Button for public and private schools across the county.

When administrators and faculty at participating schools are faced with an emergency, they can activate the application on a smartphone, which immediately calls 911 and simultaneously alerts other personnel. It also allows communication between law enforcement and first responders with those on the school premises, and provides up-to-date information that responders may need, such as the layout of the school building.

“This is about making sure we do everything we can and provide the tools that we can to keep our kids safe,” Bellone, a Democrat, said at a news conference at Kings Park High School.

Concerns surrounding school safety were amplified this past school year after mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

Districts across Long Island have been working to increase safety measures, including updates to building infrastructure, hiring additional school security staff and boosting mental health services for students. 

“Unfortunately, we know when tragedy strikes, every second, every minute is crucial,” Kings Park school district Superintendent Timothy Eagen said. “The Rave mobile app is the best way that we can get emergency management, first responders, Suffolk County PD, and even our own staff in the know immediately in terms of what’s going on.”

The Kings Park district is one of about 25 so far that have expressed interest in using the application, said Suffolk County Fire Rescue Emergency Services Chief Joel Vetter. Without the bond, each district would need to pay for the licensing, including an annual fee of $26,000, Vetter said. 

Districts already must submit emergency plans to the State Education Department, State Police and local law enforcement agencies, but Rave would require that the plans shared with local responders be digital and updated frequently, Vetter said.

Participating schools would work with law enforcement and first responders to decide who should have the application within the district, to set the application up, and to develop a training protocol, he said.

Some businesses, colleges and hospitals have also expressed interest in using the application, and all of the 56 library buildings in the county already use it, officials said.

Nassau County introduced the application to its public schools in 2016, and to date has 44 of its 56 public school districts using the program, according to the Nassau County Police Department.

Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), called the application a "stunt," and voted against the measure when it was brought before lawmakers last week. The measure passed 17 to 1. "If I believed it was a good thing for the security for the children of Suffolk County, I would have voted for it," he said. "In this country, we all are trained to dial 911. I don't want anyone searching for an app during an emergency situation."

Kenneth Bossert, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and Elwood schools superintendent, said the application is just one tool school districts can use to improve their response to an emergency situation. The hope is that all 69 public school districts across Suffolk County will use the application, and some could have it up and running by this fall, he said. “If students do not feel safe in our classroom, they cannot learn. If teachers and faculty do not feel safe in our classroom, they cannot educate our children."

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