NH schools implement safety communication app
“Our mission with this program is to eliminate or reduce casualties in active shooter or life-threatening incidents,” Ping4 CEO Jim Bender said
By Dave Solomon
The New Hampshire Union Leader
CONCORD — The Manchester school system is about to become the first district in the state to adopt a mobile communication app that local and state officials believe will significantly enhance student safety during an active shooter incident or other school-related emergencies.
The developer, Ping4 Inc. of Nashua, is offering the app at no cost to all school districts in the state with the support of Gov. Chris Sununu, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut and Homeland Security Director Perry Plummer.
All three joined Ping4 CEO Jim Bender at a State House presentation on Tuesday, to launch a statewide push for adoption of the Safety Alerts for Education (SAFE) platform.
“Our mission with this program is to eliminate or reduce casualties in active shooter or life-threatening incidents,” says Bender. “A few seconds of warning can be the difference between life and death.”
He said the SAFE app was launched in 2012 and proved effective during Hurricane Sandy that year and in the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers in 2013.
The company’s paying clients include police departments, homeland security, emergency management and other public safety agencies around the country, according to Bender, who hopes to attract the attention of 140,000 school districts in the United States through a statewide demonstration project in New Hampshire.
“SAFE is ready to be implemented immediately at any school here in New Hampshire, and thanks to the generous support of many in the New Hampshire business community, there will be no costs to the schools,” he said.
Manchester on board
The Manchester Board of School Committee unanimously approved adoption of the SAFE platform after a presentation by Bender in late May, and is now working out the details of implementation.
Once the program is up and running, students, staff and parents can download the app at safeschoolapp.com in complete anonymity. No user registration is required and the app does not collect any personal data, Bender said.
In the event of an emergency, alerts would be sent only to mobile phones within the designated alert area, although parents with children in the school would be notified wherever they are.
The alerts can be generated by school officials or law enforcement, and anyone with the app can share information about what is happening around them.
“SAFE can provide critical details that allow for informed decisions so that potential victims can better protect themselves and get out of harm’s way,” said Bender.
Two-way communication will enable first responders to receive information from inside the school, while parents can get information on where to go and what to do until a crisis is over.
Former Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard, now U.S. marshal for New Hampshire, is a big supporter of the program. “For me, the SAFE app is a solution that is ready to be implemented and something that should be instituted in all schools across the country as soon as possible,” he says in a video created to promote the program.
Both Sununu and Perry pointed to the recently released recommendations of the governor’s Safe School Preparedness Task Force, including the need for good two-way communication with first responders, school populations and parents during a school emergency.
“We are turning a recommendation into an action item that is really going to make a difference in our schools. To offer it at no cost is tremendous,” said Plummer.
Bender said the market value of the app is about $1 per user. With 16,000 students and 1,700 faculty members, the value of the donation to the Manchester school district alone is estimated at more than $17,000.
The Hollis resident who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for U.S. Senate in 2010 says he hopes to build a nationwide system.
“What does it cost to train and support tens of thousands of non-revenue customers?” he said. “If we can solve that problem, we’d like to donate this to every school in America.”
Copyright 2018 The New Hampshire Union Leader