By Stefanie Jackson
In light of the growing number of school shootings nationwide and the belief that every second counts when lives are at stake, Northampton County public school staff has been given access to an app called Inforce 911 that can alert law enforcement to an active threat in 12 seconds or less.
An active threat is one that is intentional (as opposed to a natural disaster or accident) and where the danger is immediate or imminent.
Inforce Technology President and CEO Brandon Flanagan said of the app, “the ultimate goal is to save lives” if “a worst case scenario should ever unfold.”
Northampton County Sheriff David Doughty discovered Inforce Technology at a sheriff’s conference in Virginia Beach about a year ago, and he was “impressed with their product,” he said.
Inforce 911 is installed on all Northampton County public school computers, and administrators, teachers, and staff have the option of downloading the app on their personal cellphones.
Teachers now have a direct line to law enforcement in case of an active threat on school grounds, even outside the classroom.
Teachers who launch the Inforce 911 app to notify law enforcement of an active threat can either select their location on school grounds from a list within the app or send their exact GPS coordinates.
The alert is sent directly to the sheriff, his deputies, and the local 911 center, as well as all other building teachers and staff using the system. Law enforcement officers receive a text message with the name and address of the school and the name and classroom of the teacher who sent the alert.
“Hopefully you never have to use it … but to have it in place is key,” Doughty said, because Inforce 911 enables law enforcement to go straight to the source of the problem.
Sending an Inforce 911 alert also initiates a live chat between the sender and police, Doughty said.
All Northampton County law enforcement officers from Exmore to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel receive the alert, including Virginia Marine Resource Commission officers and game wardens, whether they are on or off duty, he added.
The Inforce 911 program is constantly running on the laptops that make up the mobile command terminals in Northampton’s police cruisers, Doughty said.
Northampton’s public schools and law enforcement are currently sharing the annual cost of Inforce 911 based on the number of users from each agency. The sheriff’s office pays $3,300 annually and the school division pays $7,200, or $2,400 per school building.
No one has had to use the program yet, but Inforce Technology has worked closely with Northampton schools’ technology department and the system has been tested three times. It has received much “positive feedback,” Doughty said.
The Boston-based technology company, nearing its first anniversary, currently provides the Inforce 911 service to 60 communities in 13 states from Maine to Virginia.
Flanagan stated that Inforce 911 has not yet been used in an active shooter situation, but one Massachusetts school has used the program to report an intruder in the building, and the program “surpassed their expectations,” he said.
Massachusetts especially benefits from the “12 seconds or less” it takes for an alert to reach police through In-force 911. In that state, 911 calls are answered by state police, who ask the caller a round of questions, then route the call to the county and/or town where the caller is asked the same questions again, a process that takes two to four minutes, Flanagan said.
Northampton school staff has received active intruder training and regular drills are planned to include use of Inforce 911, Doughty said.
He has shared information on Inforce 911 with all Northampton’s public and private schools, and all have been supportive of the idea.
Doughty expects Northampton’s private schools will “come onboard” soon, and he has also recommended Inforce 911 to Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin, he said.
By Stefanie Jackson