Eight months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., U.S. Rep. John Barrow pushed Monday for support of his legislation that would install panic buttons in schools to alert police of danger.
During a news conference at the Richmond County Board of Education, Barrow said he wants to reauthorize a $30 million matching grant program that was created under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 but lapsed in 2009.
The legislation, introduced last week in House Bill 2583, would amend outstanding bylaws of the grant to include “acquisition and installation of technology for expedited notification of local law enforcement during an emergency.”
At the moment, Barrow said, the bill is gridlocked in the House of Representatives and would take an “active Congress to get it passed.” He rallied for support from his district Monday.
“What we need above all else is to improve response time so that the good guys can respond as quickly as possible,” said the 12th District Democrat. “Time is precious, and the difference between life and death is that minutes costs lives.”
First and Second Amendment advocates pointed fingers in response to the Sandy Hook shootings, but Barrow said he toured his district to visit with sheriffs, police officers and emergency workers to gain input on a possible solution.
He said one of the most constructive ideas came from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office recommended installing a “panic button” in schools that would override 911 communications and send an alert straight to the cellphones and dispatch radios of law enforcement officers in the area when an assailant is on the loose.
The idea, which Barrow hopes to have funded between 2014 and 2018, has received endorsements from the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the American Association of School Administrators.
“We support this wholeheartedly,” Sheriff Richard Roundtree said on behalf of his staff and sheriffs statewide, which at its annual convention this year discussed panic buttons as a possible way to improve school safety. “We constantly train for tornadoes, fires and natural disasters, yet in the past 50 years that has not been a significant problem in our schools. In recent years, it has been more than a dozen school shootings that have compromised school safety.”
The “silent alerts,” as Barrow termed them, could be deployed in a variety of ways, but many institutions, such as courthouses and legislative office buildings, choose to employ a centrally located button that can be triggered by anyone at any time when a threat arises.
Under the reauthorized program, communities and schools would apply for the Secure Our Schools grants through the Department of Justice, with federal resources matched by local governments.
Richmond County Superintendent Frank Roberson applauded Barrow’s efforts and said he was “very pleased” with the legislation.
“There are three institutions in our society the safety of which cannot be compromised: the home, the school and the church,” Roberson said. “Unfortunately in this day in age, we cannot assume that either will always be safe. We have to put measures in place to ensure their safety.”