A plan to implement a panic alert system in the state’s schools has ramped up in recent weeks, just in time for students heading back to school.
Meanwhile, the system may be set up in the future at the state Capitol in Little Rock.
Ted Mullenix, an official with Mullenix & Associates who works with the company developing the app, spoke Thursday to the House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committees as well as the Legislative Blue Ribbon Committee on Local 911 systems at a meeting in Blytheville.
Mullenix said the program, which was approved by the legislature earlier this year, uses a cell phone app created by Connecticut-based Rave Mobile Security.
The system notifies school officials as well as police about emergencies at a school almost instantaneously.
After a person pushes the button on the app, a call is sent to 911. Within two seconds, the entire campus is notified of an emergency, Mullenix told the committee.
Also, within 90 seconds, police will arrive at the scene.
Mullenix said the program had a delayed start due to funding not being available until July 1, 2015.
Since then, over 60% of the state’s schools have been linked to the system.
Mullenix said officials are working feverishly to link up the remaining 40% as soon as possible.
The linking of schools to the new system has been a “big undertaking,” Mullenix said, noting the state’s 257 school districts have around 1,300 school buildings on different campuses.
There are also roughly 476,000 students in the state, with 33,201 teachers as well.
Mullenix said local teachers and personnel have been undergoing training on using the app while school districts have to work to furnish local 911 systems copies of their campus maps.
Nearly 600 school personnel underwent training in early August about the system.
Several lawmakers asked Mullenix questions about the system.
Rep. Nate Bell, I-Mena, asked about the security of the system, especially dealing with fired, terminated or disgruntled school employees in light of the incident Wednesday in which two television station employees in Virginia were shot and killed on live television and another woman who was injured by a disgruntled former television reporter.
According to media reports, the former reporter, Vester Lee Flanagan, later killed himself after a pursuit by police.
Mullenix said it would be up to local superintendents to make sure that former employees were purged from the system and that officials are asking that the list of people using the system be updated every 60 days.
As for the funding on the project, the legislature appropriated $950,000 for the first year and $850,000 for the second year.
Mullenix said state legislators are working on a plan to find a “constant funding source” for the project.
Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, asked about implementing the program at the Capitol.
Mullenix said Rave would install the system at the Capitol at no charge, but would have to negotiate the cost of installing the system at state agency buildings.
Officials are in initial talks to implement the system at the Capitol, Mullenix said.
After the meeting Thursday, lawmakers visited the Big River Steel construction site south of Osceola.
Dave Stickler, the company’s CEO, spoke to lawmakers about the $1.6 billion project during a bus tour of the site.
Nearly 650 construction workers are currently working to build the mill, which is expected to be fully functional by July 2016 with 550 workers.
On Wednesday, Stickler gave a presentation to state lawmakers outlining some of the economic benefits the steel mill has already brought to the region.