New app helps make Hudson schools safer

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For staff at Hudson School District, help in an emergency will now be just a tap away.

The district has partnered with Hudson-based security company Hedge Tactical Solutions (HTS) to implement the company's Active Alert app across the district.

The app allows staff to send an emergency alert in cases such as a shooting or fire through their phones, informing everyone in the school as well as first responders.

"Staff have asked for something that's more like a panic button system, and this essentially provides our staff with that," District Community Relations Assistant Director Tracy Habisch-Ahlin said.

The software is the next step for the district as it's worked to make its schools safer in response to multiple school shootings across the nation.

"This takes us to that next level of response," Habisch-Ahlin said.

The district had previously looked at other software options, but Habisch-Ahlin said they did not have the ease of HTS' app.

"Our staff aren't dealing with crisis at this level like law enforcement so you need to have something that's in their hands that's going to work really simply," she said.

Ease was the basis of the design for HTS, Digital Media and Marketing Strategist Brooke Little said.

"It's intuitive, it's simple because of the panic state that does happen in an emergency," Little said.

The app and the training that comes with it allows staff who might otherwise be intimidated by these emergency situations to manage them better.

"There's been a lot of pressure and responsibility put on teachers and other staff," HTS intern Katherine Drewiske said. "I think versus pressure this is giving them encouragement to take control of their classrooms and their situations."

How it works

HTS first started after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, when owner and CEO Kevin Grundstrom saw the need for better training and understanding of emergency situations in the workplace, in churches and in schools.

The active alert technology launched in 2017 to address needs for communication both internally with staff members as well as externally with first responders.

"We've come up with some technology that is pretty cool and it fills those gaps," Chief Operating Officer Dave Kisch said.

The app features three button options — the red alert for active emergencies, as well as a medical emergency and need assistance buttons.

"You hope you don't have to use the red one," Little said.

In a red alert emergency, such as an active shooter, a push of the button on the app will send a notification to the phones of everyone registered in the school, including students.

The app includes a map of the school, so those making the notification can drop a dot on where the emergency is. Those notified can use that map to see where the emergency is in relation to them.

"A really important element in an active threat situation is being able to get to an exit if the threat isn't near you," Little said.

A red alert also automatically contacts emergency responders outside the school. First responders can use the app to access the school's video system and see in real time, HTS instructor and Hudson Police Department Det. Sgt. Glen Hartman said.

"The ability to tap into the video system and be able to see where the incident is taking place is going to save lives, there's no question about it," Hartman said.

Dispatch can then take over updating the app, Little said, showing movements of the threat and relaying crucial information to responders.

The app also has the option for administration to send mass texts to all phones with the app. This can be used to give updates on the alert, issue an all clear or communicate any information that can't be shown through a dot on a map.

The other two buttons are more for internal use for incidents that don't require alerting the entire school, Little said. Habisch-Ahlin said these two will be used more frequently by the school to connect with crisis teams or in medical emergencies.

Training

Training for all district staff in the program will happen in the fall. Trainings are site-specific, Kisch said.

Hartman said the training is key so people can move through any shock and fear.

"If you're paralyzed by fear, if you don't have the tools or the ability to see through a situation, that's when, you read and you see it in the news, that's when people are dying," Hartman said.

With training though, they can act.

"If you've been trained, if you know what to expect you can do something," he said.

The training also brings the law enforcement perspective to lay people, Hartman said. Three years ago the district partnered with local law enforcement for a full-scale active shooter training situation. Habisch-Ahlin said before this many staff were not aware of how law enforcement responded to alerts like this. That training and the training that will come alongside the app will help them be familiar with that.

Kisch said keeping the school safe requires more than just the app, and HTS is working to coordinate with the school on all aspects.

"It's not just one item. It's not training, it's not software, it's not making your building impenetrable," Kisch said. "It's everything."

The company has been receptive to the needs of the district, Habisch-Ahlin said. One example is their work to have a notification show on classroom computers or boards, as many teachers put their phones away during class.

Stepping up

HTS is set up to work with a variety of districts and other organizations throughout the western Wisconsin and Minnesota area. The company wants to support others in the area, from schools to churches to businesses.

"Any place of gathering is a place we want to be," Grundstrom said.

The partnership with the Hudson School District is a personal one for many with HTS. Both Little and Drewiske are HHS graduates, as well as the app's developer.

"This is the love of their community," Grundstrom said.

Grundstrom said the Hudson School District is being proactive in its use of the Active Alert app.

"The Hudson School District is stepping up," he said. "They're no longer going to be a victim or wait for something to happen."