Look twice at the walls inside Sand Creek High School, and you’ll notice that blue alarms have joined the red fire alarms this semester.
Falcon District 49 is Colorado’s second public school district — and southern Colorado’s first — to install a new emergency system that replicates a fire alarm response to alert school occupants and local police of an active shooter or other life-threatening situation.
“When you have these kinds of events that ripple through the country, that becomes the discussion of the day, and we’re pleased to be able to roll out this technology because we see it as an indicator we are listening to the community,” said D-49 spokesman David Nancarrow.
Over the past year, an advisory team has been studying priorities and options to improve school safety and security, he said. Based on surveys and feedback from staff, parents and students, the BluePoint Alert Solutions system rose to the top as the preferred choice.
D-49 chose Sand Creek as the pilot school because students and staff have “demonstrated excellent performance on drills and critical incidents,” Nancarrow said.
The system provides a typical high school with 25 pull-down police alarms at strategic locations, 15 to 20 strobe lights that flash during an emergency and six communication pendants, worn by administrators, teachers and security guards, said John Shales, co-founder of the Illinois-based BluePoint.
The system rolled out in 2014 in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 in Newton, Conn., and it’s now in about 200 schools in 17 states, as well as many businesses and homes, Shales said.
If a school has an active shooter or other intruder, a student abduction or any threat to loss of life, anyone can pull the alarm to immediately notify law enforcement. An announcement over the school’s PA also is activated.
At Sand Creek, the school would immediately go into lockdown mode, meaning no one can leave or enter the building, Nancarrow said.
Police are informed where the alarm was pulled in the building, which school cameras are closest to that site and a map of the spot inside the building, Shales said.
Staff members also get the information and communicate with authorities as the incident is occurring.
“It provides a lot more situational awareness,” Shales said. “We’ve taken a life-safety approach, bringing all the code requirements for fire alarms over to our system, which no one else is doing, including apps.”
Nationwide, schools using the alarms haven’t had any incidents at schools using the police alarms, he said. The system acts as a deterrent, much like a home security system.
Sand Creek has not experienced any false alarms since the system went online after Spring Break, Nancarrow said. The alarm is not to be used for reporting medical, fire or accident situations, or for pranks.
If students pull the alarm intentionally without a life-threatening emergency, they would face disciplinary action, the spokesman said.
Students and staff have been doing drills and learning how and when to use the system, he said.
The $69,000 installation cost was paid with money from a mill levy override voters approved in 2016, specifically for safety and security upgrades, Nancarrow said.
After the pilot period ends later this year, the district will consider whether to add the system to more schools.
D-49 also is using grant money to install safety window film and improve communication with updated hand-held radios, Nancarrow said.
Schools already have secure entryways, video surveillance, the RAPTOR background check system for visitors, multiple armed security officers and regular emergency drills.