Homeland Security Funds 'Panic Buttons' for Maine Schools


panic button
AUGUSTA – The Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), a division of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, on Tuesday alerted Maine’s school districts to a new grant program that will help cover the cost of upgrading campus security.

William DeLong, Division Director for Homeland Security, said MEMA worked closely with Department of Education personnel in crafting the grant program. DeLong expects anywhere from 50 to 100 school districts toapply for the grant, which will be funded through a federal Homeland Security Grant program.

“The thinking behind the grant is to enhance school security without costs for schools,” said DeLong.

The funds will be specifically ear-marked to allow SAUs to buy and install things to keep unwelcome guests out – remote entry control systems – and things to get first responders in quickly in the event of an emergency – like Knox Boxes and Panic Buttons.

Remote entry control systems allow front offices to unlock front doors remotely after validating a visitor’s identity. Some use windows while others use cameras and closed circuit television to allow school workers to determine a visitor’s identity before welcoming him into the building.

“The remote entry control system, if it’s installed on the primary entrance, vastly increases the ability to keep the school secure,” said DeLong. “It’s all about securing the primary entrance,” he said.

According to the grant application form, the state is allotting $5,000 for each remote entry system.

The panic buttons will resemble those banks use to stealthily summon police during robberies.

“Panic buttons, in an emergency, help school personnel save time. Instead of dialing 911 or radioing for help, staff can immediately send a distress signal to first responders,” said DeLong. He said panic buttons hardwired to primary and secondary law enforcement agencies will allow police to respond quickly to potential threats at schools.

“If you have an active shooter, intruder, or domestic situation, a panic button can summon law enforcement when calling the police isn’t practical,” said DeLong.

The state is offering $1,500 for panic buttons, but it will not cover additional service costs.

One item the grant covers, the Knox Box, is geared towards fires rather than shooters or intruders.

Augusta Fire Department Chief Roger J. Audette said the Knox Box has been in use for at least the past 18 years and has helped public and commercial entities mitigate costs associated with emergency first responders.

“We uses [Knox Boxes] on our city schools,” said Audette. “The big benefit for big commercial buildings with fire alarms is allowing fire fighters to investigate alarms and potential fires,” he said. He said when fire fighters respond to an alarm at a building with no Knox Box, they often have to decide whether to enter based on observations from outside the building. “Having a Knox  Box removes the need for guesswork,” he said.

Knox Boxes give first responders easy access to critical keys for a given facility on the exterior of a building when key-holders cannot be found, Audette said.

The state is offering SAUs $300 per school for Knox Box installation.

The application deadline for the grant is April 12 and approved SAUs must expend the funds before July 31.

By S.E. Robinson

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