School- shooting panic goes commercial

As if I didn’t have enough anxiety as the school year begins – over homework, lunch money, mornings – here was Brandon Flanagan, talking about the worst-case-scenario of all.

His company is peddling a software program called “COPsync 911,” designed to manage a school shooting as it happens. Last week, he gave a demonstration. A shooter arrives. A teacher clicks a police-badge icon on a desktop or smartphone. A 15-second countdown begins, then alerts go out to area law-enforcement agencies.

Then, up pops a “Crisis Portal,” a chat room window that lets police and teachers send instant messages about the shooter’s location and the responders’ whereabouts. There are links to an area map and school layout schematics, so police can coordinate, reach schools fast, attend to the wounded quickly, and send updates to survivors.

It’s a kind of insurance policy for the unthinkable, and in 18 months, Flanagan has had plenty of takers: every public school in New Hampshire, several dozen districts in Massachusetts, a handful of others around the country. They pay about $4,000 per school the first year, and $2,000 in subsequent years, for a system that sounds gloriously effective and, given the statistics, almost certainly unnecessary.

But this is our post-Newtown world, a never-ending game of just-in-case. When it comes to school shootings – more frequent than before, but still exceptionally rare – where should panic end and smart security begin?

In part, that depends on where you live. According to Steven Schlozman, a child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, school-shooting panic is largely a suburban phenomenon, expressed at a pitch that overshadows the daily security risks in urban districts.

But suburban fear is a powerful force. Patrice McCarthy, deputy director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, has tracked school security nationwide since the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, and gave me a rundown. Most schools now have multipronged entry systems, involving vestibules and buzzers. Most have lockdown drills.

Many have school resource officers, some of them armed.

There’s an argument for preparation. As Flanagan told me, not many school buildings burn to the ground, but we hold fire drills as a matter of course.

Can we prep in such a laid-back way that a lockdown drill feels as perfunctory as a fire drill: a yawn, some muscle memory, and everyone moves on? Already, McCarthy said, schools are more attuned to relationships with police and students’ mental health. And COPsync 911 seems like an efficient tool for helping police communicate.

Except for this hitch: You can’t use it without a school crisis. And the chances of that are blissfully low.