Public libraries in Nassau County will soon have access to a smartphone-based emergency alert system that officials say will allow staffers to instantly notify police of a mass shooting or other emergency.
Starting Tuesday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, officials will begin making the software available to the staff at the more than 50 public libraries in Nassau.
“Reducing law enforcement response time is critical when it comes to reducing the amount of deaths in an active-shooter situation,” Curran said Monday at a news conference outside the Uniondale Public Library in Uniondale.
The app, which offers digital panic buttons, is already in use in most public schools in Nassau, officials said. In Suffolk, officials last week said they will borrow $2 million to buy the licensing rights for the Rave Panic Button app and make it available to public and private schools in that county.
This summer, school districts across Long Island have been working to boost security, including building infrastructure and increasing their security staff. Safety concerns in schools and other public spaces were heightened after recent shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.
The people who work at 911 call centers, by law, must answer calls in the order they arrive, regardless of their urgency, said Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. The app, he said, allows emergency calls to bypass the 911 system, and sends the calls directly to a terminal inside the police department’s communications bureau.
“And because of that separate terminal, we get the call immediately,” Ryder said.
In slightly more than half of active shooting situations, the shooting is over within 2 minutes, Ryder said. It takes Nassau police an average of 3 minutes to respond to an emergency. The app, Ryder said, allows the police department to cut response time by 30 seconds to 1 minute.
“If I can close that gap between two and three [minutes] is how we save lives,” he said.
In libraries where internet-based camera systems are already installed, the police have the capability to enter the library’s system remotely and monitor activities inside, Ryder said.
Like schools, library boards will decide when they want the police to access their internet-based camera systems. Each library will sign a memorandum of understanding with the police department.
“If they wish for us to access them without notifying them, we do,” Ryder said. “But if they only want us to access when there is an emergency, we access only in an emergency.”
Not all officials are convinced that the Rave Panic Button app is effective at improving police response time.
Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a former Suffolk County detective who worked on the FBI Gang Task Force, said the Rave Panic Button app is redundant.
If the software works, he said, he wonders why the company has disclaimers on its website that include telling users that they “agree the services are provided for convenience only” and that the “services must not be relied upon to provide emergency response services.”
“This is nothing more than a speed dial,” Trotta said.
Todd Miller, chief operating officer for Rave Mobile Safety, the Massachusetts company that designed the app, said he is not in a position to comment on the disclaimers. The app, Miller said, does more to help police cut down the response than just calling 911. At the same time it notifies police of an emergency, Miller said, it also notifies other users on the same system — teachers or library staff — with information such as the type of emergency being reported.
“You don’t get that with a plain 911 call,” Miller said.