Get Acrobat ReaderDownload and install Adobe Reader to open PDF files.

Hero911 and School Guard Work Together for Safer Schools

By Becky Lewis
January 2014

The question being asked by the app is at once simple and terrifying: Confirm armed intruder? With one stab of a finger indicating yes, a 911 call goes out and a burst message goes to all the other smartphones carried by teachers in the school.

And to the smartphones of every participating law enforcement officer within a 10-mile radius, whether on duty or off.

The app in question is School Guard, a for-fee service that works in conjunction with the Hero911 app (free to law enforcement.) The school district in Columbia, Ill., began serving as the test site for School Guard on Jan. 14, 2014, with the app fully operational in all four of its schools by the end of February. The app also includes an option to call for help in the event of another type of emergency, such as a medical emergency in a classroom; an option for an administrator to send an emergency-related message to all teachers; and the capability to upload a school’s security plan.

“When I attend school safety conferences, I feel we are ahead of the curve because we already have many things in place such as tools to facilitate a quick lockdown and buzzer systems at school entrances, and we are in the process of installing shatterproof film on the glass. We have been conducting active shooter and hostage drills with the students and staff in our schools since the 2005-2006 school year, years before the Illinois state legislature required them,” says Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Beth Horner. “If there is ever an opportunity to increase safety for our students and staff, we take it, so when the SchoolGuard developers asked us to be the test site, we were really excited.”

Because two of the app’s four developers have children in the Columbia schools, it seemed a natural fit as a test site. A St. Louis bedroom community of approximately 10,000 residents, the school district enrolls some 2,000 students in pre-K through 12th grade, and has a strong working relationship with the Columbia Police Department and Chief Joe Edwards.

“In today’s world, if a police department doesn’t work with the local schools to do active shooter training, the department isn’t serving the community as well as it should,” Edwards says. “I think working with school districts should be one of the highest priorities around the country right now.”

As part of working with the school district, Edwards has ensured that Hero911 will be downloaded to all of the new smartphones his officers receive. On the day of the January 14 demo, Edwards looked at his own smartphone and saw that it indicated 56 officer members of the Hero911 network could be found within a 10-mile radius of the school, and “knowing that we have only two working cars on the street at any time, it’s good to know we would have an immediate response from that many officers in the event that an active shooter event takes place.”

Getting the word out quickly to that number of officers is the goal that technical expert Nate McVicker had in mind when he came up with the idea in spring 2013. McVicker and three other partners, another technical expert and two retired officers, worked together to refine the idea and make it a reality.

“We brainstormed and realized that there is no other app that notifies officers directly on their smartphones,” says another partner, Col. Michael Snyders (ret.) of the Illinois State Police. “The more we talked to people about this need, the more we became excited that we could fill a niche and save seconds in response time. We’re trying not to overplay the concept that seconds count, but it’s true. With the app, all officers in the area – on and off duty, retired and active – will find out sooner and be able to respond quickly. We’re trying to dramatically increase the pool of officers who may be in a position to neutralize the threat quickly.”

The Hero911 app launched in November 2013 and after the first month, some 4,000 officers had signed on, approximately half in Illinois and the rest scattered around the country. To download the app, an individual must visit the Apple ITunes store (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/schoolguard/id768010909?mt=8
or Google Play (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.guard911.heronetwork), and after downloading, fill out a registration form that goes to a vetting team to ensure the individual meets qualifications before the app is activated. Officers receive notification of approval with 48 hours.

To learn more about the SchoolGuard demo project, contact Dr. Beth Horner at horner.beth@columbia4.org.