Posted: 5:10 p.m. Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bellingham to install panic buttons in every school

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Whatcom Middle School photo
Whatcom Middle School

By Joanna Small

BELLINGHAM, Wash. —

A local school district says teachers will be able to call 911 without ever dialing with a device called a panic button; Bellingham will be getting some for every one of its buildings.

The Washington Legislature is requiring every school district in the state to improve emergency response by next December. Eighty districts are sharing $7 million in state grant money to make that happen; Bellingham chose the panic buttons.
 
Sixth grade teacher Michael Owens has never faced an emergency inside Whatcom Middle School but he thinks about it.
 
"Every time something bad happens somewhere else I think about what would I do in that kind of situation,” Owens tells us.
 
By this time next year Owens won't need to dial 911 -- instead he'll just press a button.
 
"No reason to pick up a phone,” explains District Assistant Superintendent Ron Cowan.  He tells us once the button is pushed 911 dispatchers will be able to see and hear what's going on inside the school. Cowan says the idea came from local law enforcement.
 
"We decided a long time ago that we aren't experts on security but the folks who deal with it every day are so why don't we bring it along and become partners with us?”
 
 "I've never heard of it in a school before, a panic button in a school,” says Owens. Neither had Cowan.
 
 "Courtrooms would be a place where you might find this kind of technology,” Cowan says.
 
We did some digging.  There are companies all over the country making buttons specifically for schools.
 
"I think it's a great idea,” Stephanie Geiger tells us.  She’s picking up her daughter from Whatcom Middle School.  “There was an incident in Ferndale recently where they were on lockdown."
 
 Cowan admits he hasn't seen one in action.
 
"I do know this -- it's way better than the system we have right now, which is to pick up the telephone and dial 911,” he concludes.
 
We called 15 other school districts also getting this grant; five got back to us. None were installing panic buttons, but some haven’t made those decisions yet.

Grandview Middle School in eastern Washington was one of the first in the state to get wireless panic buttons last fall.

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