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Upstate Sheriffs Say Software Will Improve School Safety

Lucas Willard

Sheriffs from three upstate counties are pushing for an online emergency response program to be used in schools across New York.

The name of the software is Rapid Responder. It’s a program that allows police and other first responders access to a school’s emergency plans, maps, photos, and other information in the event of a crisis.

Jim Finnell, CEO of Prepared Response, the company that created the software, says it allows administrators, employees, and first responders easy access to a building’s important information.

“Web technology really provides a tremendous vehicle for disseminating information and it’s all about trying to do it securely and we work very hard at that,” said Finnell.

Finnell spoke at a press conference hosted by the New York State Sheriffs Association, which is making a push to bring Rapid Responder to school districts across the state.

“The New York sheriffs in particular, we work all over the country, they really embrace this. This helps them and they want their communities to be safer.”

So far, 35 school districts in 10 counties have signed up. The program costs $99 a month. 

Warren County Sheriff Bud York, Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy, and Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo are all working to get the program into more schools throughout their counties.

Zurlo said for first responders, the program is a big step up from the previous way of handling things in an emergency.

“Right now we go back to the three-ring binder or maps you have to pull out of a tube to look at different layouts of school. This gives you immediate access and we can pull it up on a computer or an iPad or a cellphone, and I think it’s a great program,” said Zurlo.

The program can access cameras, give instructions to shut off utilities, and provide contact info for administrators.

Sheriff Murphy said the program is particularly helpful in his county, which has a lower population density and stretches over a large area.

“Geographically it’s a very large county and it might take us a while to get from one school to the other, and it might have deputies that don’t normally work in that area to respond to the school,” said Murphy. “Not only does it offer the ability to see the staff photos, to make sure that you’re dealing with the people who they say they are, but it also have the information right at your fingertips, when you pull into the facility you can look the building plans up, you can see the photos from inside the school.”

The program is also used in hospitals, correctional facilities, and other locations.

Again, Sheriff Murphy.

“And it’s not just for active shooter case or things like that. It can be any kind of emergency situation, or an intruder in a school, or things like that. So it really offers us tools that we didn’t have before.”

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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