September 21, 2018
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Here’s how Brewer plans to make its schools safer during emergencies

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
The Brewer Community School. Gabor Degre | BDN
By Callie Ferguson, BDN Staff
Updated:

The Brewer Police Department is installing a new tool across the city’s schools that will allow teachers and police to communicate instantly during an emergency, the chief of police said.

InForce911 is a chat portal that lets school employees communicate directly with police during an emergency, streamlining the flow of information and potentially shaving minutes off law enforcement’s response time, said Jason Moffitt, Brewer Director of Public Safety. The system is expected to go online this summer, he said.

“If you have some type of critical incident, we’re going to get many, many calls,” said Moffitt. Normally those calls go straight to the county dispatcher and sometimes create a clog of information, he explained. The new system will create a path to bypass dispatchers. “As people are typing in information, it’s instantly available to us.”

The technology is one part of an overall “safety roadmap” for the city that Moffitt prepared earlier this month at the request of the city council.

Councilors asked for the plan after a mass shooting at a Florida school left 17 people dead, along with other massacres that spurred a nationwide call for ways to thwart future attacks, said Mayor Jerry Goss. Specifically, the council asked the police department to evaluate the city’s emergency response system and recommend improvements.

“Because we hear all of these [stories], and then somebody says, what are you doing in Brewer?” Goss said. “It’s a way for us to show our citizens, our businesses, and our schools that this is a top priority for us and we have plans in place to adequately deal with situations.”

Much of the safety roadmap — which was presented to the council on May 3 — is an outline of the department’s existing effort to keep the city safe, Moffitt said. It focuses heavily on safeguarding schools, which in the United States are some of the most frequent sites for deadly gunfire. A 2013 FBI study found that 70 percent of the 160 active shooter incidents that took place between 2000 and 2013 occurred in “educational or commerce environments.”

There hasn’t ever been an active shooter situation in Brewer, where the schools have had school resource officers since the early 1990s, Goss said.

The plan also outlines areas for improvement — specifically, spotting warning signs in people who may commit future atrocities, he said. The document recommends developing a new curriculum for training school staff, and Moffitt said the police department will refine its risk assessment of students or people who have made threats against their peers or public places.

“We’re exploring new territory,” Moffitt said. “Most of these things were already in the works. However, we’re trying to get a little more technical and in depth when it comes to risk assessment.”

InForce911, created by a Massachusetts-based company, is an example of something the department has been working on since the fall, when the city received $6,000 in federal grant money to launch a one-year pilot project, Moffitt said. After the first year, the system would cost about $3,000 a year to maintain, he said.

Functioning like a chat, school officials would use InForce911 to contact the police by using their computers or cell phones. This would allow teachers to feed police immediate on-the-ground updates that might take a while to filter through dispatchers fielding dozens of calls, he said.

Police would also be able to immediately alert the school of threats that would force the buildings into lockdown, Moffitt said.

The Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office is also in the middle of installing the same software in The County’s middle and high schools, although they had been using a similar technology for the last year until the company that provided it went bankrupt, according to Patrol Commander Joe McKenna.

McKenna had been trained on the old system, and said it made information sharing convenient, sending updates straight to the computer inside his cruiser. It also allows cops to communicate in a centralized place once they arrive at the scene of an incident, which can be chaotic and confusing.

“With this, everything is right there. [Deputies] don’t need to get on the radio — other than to say, ‘I’m going,’” he said.

InForce911 will be ready by next school year in Brewer, after school officials and the police department develop protocols for its use and train staff on the system before they get back into the classroom next fall, Brewer Superintendent Cheri Towle said. No precise timeline has been set for other suggestions made within the safety roadmap, Goss said.

The document has been passed back to the police department and school board for further revisions, and is expected to come back before the council later this summer, he said.

BDN writer Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.

 


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