Bergen County prosecutor emphasizes readiness at school safety forum
PARAMUS — Police officers in Bergen County are prepared to respond swiftly and effectively to a report of a shooter in a school building, the county prosecutor, John L. Molinelli, said Wednesday night at a forum on school safety at Paramus High School.
Even so, Molinelli said his office is helping districts that have asked for guidance to assess 158 buildings in the coming months, to gauge whether they could take any more steps to improve security.
Molinelli addressed about 100 parents, school board members and law enforcement officials at the forum, which was scheduled in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting. In the case of a shooting incident, he said, parents should restrain themselves from following their gut instinct to rush to school and get their children.
“The worst thing you can do as a parent is go to that school,” he said. “You are subjecting yourself to risk and making it very difficult for our brave law enforcement” officers to do their job. Instead, he said, parents should gather in a safe area dictated by officials so they can wait for information and instructions.
The panel of police chiefs and school officials was one of several hosted statewide by the New Jersey School Boards Association since the Newtown shooting in December, when authorities said a disturbed loner killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The meeting attracted representatives from companies selling technology for school safety. One was started by a Ramsey rescue squad member, Erik Endress, who said his new emergency notification service, ShareWith911.com, has been hired by 23 districts since December, including five in Bergen County.
Endress, a former Ramsey school board member and technology specialist for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said he developed the Web-based service so educators and first responders can be in quick contact in case of danger, and share details about instructions and students’ whereabouts.
The system lets any authorized teacher or school employee log into the website via cellphone, tablet or computer to lock down a school and alert police and administrators to any threats. If police officers or school employees broadcast an alert by email or text message, teachers can respond with their locations and say which students are missing, injured or trapped as hostages.
Endress said this technology was a big improvement on public-address systems that often require users to come to a central location, which can take time and put them in jeopardy.
“In some schools teachers are told to tape Xs on windows of classrooms to communicate with first responders, and that’s not practical,” he said.
Endress started promoting his service two weeks before the Newtown shooting. It costs $3 per month per school employee authorized to use it, and public safety officials have access for free. In Bergen County, he has contracts with the Ridgewood, Northern Highlands Regional High School, Upper Saddle River, Ho-Ho-Kus and New Milford school districts.
Bruce De Young, the interim superintendent in Ramsey, said he was considering ShareWith911.com.
“It seems promising,” he said. “It can be used for a lot of things other than active shooters, such as fires or students who are ill in a classroom. It’s a way to communicate back and forth even in a lockdown to see classroom by classroom how everyone is faring.”