The Safety Alerts For Education (S.A.F.E.) mobile phone application is a geographical alert system that can be used in emergency situations and is designed for school districts. Currently, the app is only available to New Hampshire and Massachusetts school districts, but it is scheduled to be released nationwide on April 19.
S.A.F.E was created by the same developers, Ping4, as Massachusetts Alerts in 2011. This system was used in the Boston Marathon bomber manhunt and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“We got into it because we were in the right place at the right time to do something meaningfully good,” Jim Bender, CEO and founder of Ping4, told School Transportation News.
The S.A.F.E. discussion started after the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14 last year. Following the shooting, there were several student protests, in which students wanted to improve the safety of their schools.
“We started to realize a lot of students perceive that their schools aren’t as safe as they should be, or that they need to be,” Bender said. “And if there is this wide of a perception that schools aren’t as safe as they need to be, that undermines the whole educational system of our country.” That’s because, “students aren’t going to be learning as well as they should be, if they don’t feel safe, and teachers won’t be teaching as well as they should be,” Bender stressed.
The system is based on geographic proximity. School districts can add latitude and longitude, and a geofence can be set up in any shape; a circle, square or polygon around their school and community.
“You can have a 200-sided polygon if you wanted,” Bender said. “And if you happen to be within the boundaries of that, if your phone is in the boundaries of that, then your phone will get the signal being sent out.”
Alerts can be sent in all forms of videos, text messages, links, audio, photos, and so on. If a user receives an alert, they can reply directly back to the sender with a photo of their location, or a text message with more information. Bender said this function is extremely helpful for law enforcement.
“We can send up to a million messages per minute with this,” Bender said. “So even in an extreme crisis, in a widespread calamity, this system is less likely to get overwhelmed than almost anything else you can think of.”
School districts officials can sign up their school by visiting the Ping4 website and entering their details. Within a matter of days, they will receive their credentials for S.A.F.E. It would then be the school’s responsibility to inform its community and students to download the app onto their phones. The app is required to receive the safety notifications and alerts.
When school districts are signing up, they should be cognitive of their bus routes, Bender noted. There are two ways the bus drivers and students who are riding the bus to and from school can receive the safety alerts. Their school district can set-up the geofence to include all bus routes, or the students and drivers can set that school as a “watched location.” This feature can also benefit parents.
“Let’s say you were the mother of four children who attended four different schools, and you could be traveling anywhere in the world. If any of your four schools (that you set a watched location for) had an alert, you would get the alert too,” Bender said.
Another system feature is the receipt of alerts anywhere via app. If someone is visiting another town that has the safety alerts set up, the visitor would be able to receive any alerts that are sent out—as long as they are in the proximity of that geofence and have downloaded the application.
The system is currently available in 500 schools in New Hampshire, which Bender said is nearly the entire school population. Due to its success, Ping4 opened the system to schools in Massachusetts on March 25, and Bender said the company plans to release it nationwide in about two weeks.
School Transportation News reached out to the superintendent of Manchester School District in New Hampshire for comment on the S.A.F.E. system, but had not heard back at the time of this writing. Previously, Manchester School District’s school board voted to implement this program into its schools on May 29 of last year.