Suffolk County has begun using technology developed to improve police response times to school shooting incidents to protect county workers during emergencies.
Using two new smartphone applications, county workers can alert authorities to emergencies and provide information such as their medical histories. Another program soon will allow police to tap into security cameras in county buildings to immediately get eyes on the scene.
“We want to minimize our response time,” Suffolk Police Chief Stuart Cameron said. “We want to equip citizens to immediately react to these types of events.”
In a June memo, officials urged county employees to sign up for the Rave Panic Button, which notifies 911 of emergencies, and Smart911, which provides users’ contact and medical information to first responders. The memo was issued less than a month after a deadly shooting at a Virginia Beach, Virginia, municipal building.
Also, a new SHARE initiative — Sharing to Help Access Remote Entry — will allow county police to receive real-time video feeds, remotely unlock doors, access public address systems and potentially watch and track active shooters or intruders through wireless cameras. The first county cameras are expected to be connected to the system by the end of August.
“It’s a huge leap forward technologically for us,” Cameron said.
The Rave Panic Button was launched in 2015 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, to ensure faster responses and better communication during school emergencies, according to Rave Mobile Safety, the company that produces the app. Users can activate the application on their smartphones to immediately notify 911 and other app users in the area to help workers escape, hide or fight as a last resort, officials said. It also eases communication between first responders and those on site.
Last year, the Suffolk County Legislature approved $2 million in spending to license the app for public and private schools across the county. The contract will extend the service to county workers at no extra cost, officials said.
Cameron said the SHARE program, developed by county police after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, won't "cost the County much of anything" because it will use existing cameras and technology or systems purchased by school districts.
During a pilot program, some 280 county employees downloaded the Rave Panic Button app and used it about 45 times a month for medical emergencies, said Joel Vetter, county chief of fire rescue services.
Daniel Levler, president of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, said the union has worked with the sheriff’s department to assess buildings for potential threats and the need for security upgrades, and with app developers to limit data mining, in which large databases are examined in order to generate new information.
“We want to make sure if there is any threat of violence, our members have the tools available to them to protect themselves and their co-workers,” Levler said.
Nassau County officials said Rave and silent alarms are in some county buildings, and the police department offers training for active shooter situations and stopping traumatic bleeding.
In Suffolk, other emergency safety programs also are in place. More than 1,300 employees have taken an active shooter response course. The county also provides law enforcement authorities with electronic maps of county buildings that include emergency exits through an app called Rave Facility.
The county police department has key cards to access county buildings during emergencies, a measure taken after Virginia Beach authorities said they were hindered without them, Cameron said.
“We’re doing everything we can, looking at every opportunity to make our communities safer, our schools safer and our employees safer,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.