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Nashua company offers free text alert system to N.H. schools

  • James Bender, CEO of Nashua-based Ping4, unveils a new phone app to allow New Hampshire schools and police departments to better communicate with students and teachers during lockdowns, Oct. 9, 2018. Ethan DeWitt—Ethan DeWitt



Monitor staff
Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A Nashua company is offering a free mobile messaging service to New Hampshire schools to allow police and administrators to better communicate with students and teachers during lockdowns.

Ping4, a security technology company established in 2011, has released a free phone app for students, teachers, administrators, and parents, and plans to work with interested schools to implement it, officials said Tuesday.

The app, known as Safety Alerts for Education (SAFE), allows for two-way communication during emergencies, according to Ping4 CEO James Bender. Those interested in alerts can download the app from the Apple or Android store; police and school officials can then use the app to send messages to all users of the app within a specific geographic area, Bender said.

In an active shooter situation, for instance, a superintendent or police chief with information on the location of the attacker could advise all students at the end of the building to secure their areas, and all students at the other end of the building to evacuate.

“SAFE can provide critical details that allow for informed decisions that can help potential victims to better protect themselves and get out of harm’s way,” Bender said at a press conference at the State House Tuesday.

The app would also allow law enforcement and school administrators to receive messages from students and teachers in the building, giving them real-time updates to plan their response, Bender said.

Parents could receive alerts of unfolding events at the school and could be diverted by officials to a holding area near the school grounds to await information. 

So far, the app has been approved for use by the Manchester school board and is being implemented there – though other school districts have expressed interest, according to Bender. Ping4 is hoping to roll the app out to as many of the state’s 167 school districts as possible, and then expand its use to other states, Bender said.

The app comes as school districts grapple with ways to improve emergency action plans and “harden” facilities, amid a wave of recent school shootings including a February shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17.

In remarks Tuesday, Sununu said the offer would allow the state to fulfill one of the recommendations of a task force this year looking into school safety improvements. That task force report urged schools to implement “two-way, in-school communication” to allow officials to communicate with students and teachers. 

“Today’s announcement by Ping4 offers school districts a tool that addresses both these areas and will certainly help school districts at no cost to them, improving communication in an emergency,” Sununu said. 

Ping4 has developed similar systems for emergency management agencies, police departments, and the Department of Homeland Security, Bender said. 

“We’ve found that police really love this,” he said. “To be able to put an alert into a school building, and then have those who feel safe enough to respond giving the police information about what’s actually going on inside the school building, is invaluable.”

It is not clear how many school districts will immediately sign on – nor whether districts will seek school board approval to implement the app. 

Interested schools can register with Ping4 through the app, which will verify administrators to send out alerts and collect geographic information on the school’s buildings, according to Bender. The company would then provide an online training seminar for the system. If approved, the program could be set up “overnight,” Bender said. 

“The beauty is that we’re not pushing this on anybody; we’re offering it to everyone,” he added. “And we’re saying that you have control over whether you decide to use it, when you decide to use it, how you decide to use it.” 

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)