Schools turn to technology to reduce toll during shootings

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By Associated Press

Efforts to combat school shootings are starting to shift from preventing the violence to reducing the number of victims through technology that speeds up law enforcement’s response and quickly alerts teachers and students to danger.

School districts are using products like gunshot detection systems that identify where shots are fired and apps that allow teachers to report attacks and connect with police. While a focus on gun control often emerges after shootings, technology can be a less partisan solution that’s quick to implement — though some experts say funding preventive mental health resources should be the priority.

The tech approach comes amid rising concern over the inability to prevent shootings like the one last week at a suburban Denver high school. Student Kendrick Castillo, 18, was killed after charging one of the gunmen and was honored at a memorial service Wednesday.

“If I’m intent on shooting people at a school, there are 20 ways to do it,” said Erik Endress, CEO of Share911, a New Jersey-based company with an app that allows staff to immediately report to colleagues and police everything from medical conditions to active shooters.

“We can improve the outcome of these situations,” Endress said. “We can minimize the casualty count.”

While school attacks are relatively rare, they have been among the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

Juliet Fine, principal at Beverly Hills Unified School District’s K-8 Horace Mann School shows the Share 911 phone application on her cell phone in Beverly Hills, California on May 13, 2019.Richard Vogel / AP file

The 1999 massacre of 13 people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, ushered in a new era of school security but the carnage continued, including 27 people killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and 17 deaths last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Joseph Erardi, a retired Newtown superintendent who came to the district a year after the shooting, said lawmakers pressed for “hardening” infrastructure at schools.

That has spurred a billion-dollar industry where companies manufacture products from “ballistic attack-resistant” doors to smoke cannons. The hardening market, as well as lobbying efforts to get taxpayer dollars to fund upgrades, had stalled in recent years but rekindled after the Parkland shooting.

“We’ve kind of reached this state of frustration where we (feel like we) can’t protect our students,” said Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “What we’re trying to do is find some technological fix, and there isn’t one.”

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