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Long-awaited panic alarm program expands to private schools, religious institutions, businesses

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, holds a wireless

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, holds a wireless panic alarm device on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013 in Carle Place. Photo Credit: Alejandra Villa

Nassau County is expanding the scope of its controversial proposed panic alarm program for public schools to include religious institutions and businesses, officials said Monday.

Shopping malls, synagogues and churches would be eligible to receive panic alarm devices and a phone application -- technology that would directly link to law enforcement in the event of a mass shooting or other emergency, officials said.

Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore), who pushed for the expansion, said it was "common sense" to use the technology in all places of "mass assembly." The Nassau County Legislature voted unanimously Monday to allow for locations deemed "critical infrastructure" by the Nassau County Police Department to be eligible to have access to the alarms and application.

The expansion comes two years after county officials announced a $3.2 million plan to outfit public schools with GPS-enabled panic alarms to use during an emergency. The panic alarms have not yet been distributed because of a now-settled contractual dispute with a vendor and a less-than-enthusiastic response from school officials.

The GPS-equipped panic alarms, with a two-way microphone, would allow school personnel to communicate directly with the police department's Communications Bureau, which operates its 911 system. The smartphone application would allow law enforcement authorities to communicate with a caller via text message during an emergency.

Acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said the department will decide who is eligible for the alarm program, which will cost a still-to-be determined fee for businesses and religious institutions. Schools will use both devices for free, Krumpter said. The county is still negotiating a contract with the smartphone application provider, Krumpter said.

Krumpter said both devices will be rolled out "in the coming months" and said there will be no additional costs beyond a service agreement with the smartphone application vendor.

Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said Monday he thought it was a "great move," but questioned why the department would expand a program that was already two years delayed.

"I think it's a great move, but at what pace?" Carver said. "How can you expand it when you only have one alarm? I'm at a loss for words. How can you expand something that you haven't even implemented yet? If they implement it like they did with the schools, it's going to be a long time coming."

Rabbi Charles Klein, of the Merrick Jewish Center, said he discussed security at his facility with Rhoads earlier this year, and is "thrilled" to have access to the new technology.

"Our umbrella of protection has been expanded in very significant ways," Klein said.

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