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Schools should bank on ‘Alyssa’s Law’

A masked person walks into a bank brandishing a handgun or automatic weapon and yells, “This is a stickup!”

A quick-thinking teller flips a switch or pushes a button and almost immediately, police are on the way.

It’s something that happens in banks in everyday life, and certainly, it’s something we’ve seen in the movies.

And in only six states across the country, it’s something that can happen in schools when an armed intruder makes their way into a building.

You’ve never seen that in Pennsylvania, but a new law introduced in the Senate would make silent alarms in schools mandatory here.

The bipartisan proposal is dubbed “Alyssa’s Law” after Alyssa Alhadeff, one of 17 who died in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018. Seventeen other students were injured.

The measure would make it mandatory to install devices in schools to speed up law enforcement’s response during an emergency.

Alyssa was 14 when she was killed when a former student busted his way into the school building. Advocacy of her family and their organization, Make Our Schools Safe, made it possible that six states, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Utah put it into law.

Several other state legislatures are working to pass it. Nebraska, Arizona, Virginia, Oregon, Georgia, Michigan, Massachusetts and Oklahoma are in the process, as is a plan to introduce the law at the federal level.

Two Montgomery County senators, Democrat Art Haywood and Republican Tracy Pennycuick, introduced the proposal and hope it becomes law soon.

State Rep. Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz, a Berks County Democrat, introduced a version of the plan in the House in March.

Though it’s not required, Delaware County installed a silent alarm system in all of its public and private schools in 2013. The system has been activated a few times since then in the county, but all turned out not to be active shooter situations.

The technology is relatively simple and works at several levels.

Someone presses a button mounted on a nearby wall, under a desk, in computer software, on a smartphone app or a transmitter that’s part of an identification lanyard.

That signal is linked to a monitoring location, much like a home security system, or directly to law enforcement. It can work with landlines, cellular networks or the internet.

Once activated, the alarm sends a location, sometimes as close as a specific location in a building. That helps responders arrive efficiently.

The devices may trigger silent alarms that would only notify authorities or audible alarms to notify people not connected to the system. Usually, though, places like schools and banks favor a silent system.

Some even link to in-house security systems to show exact locations of incidents and help responders decide a course of action.

Of course, all this requires pre-planned responses and training to handle specific situations.

School personnel will still need training in keeping order in the potential chaos of an evacuation, and students might be trained in evacuation methods, should they be needed.

The alarms often help in everyday situations, too. They can summon an ambulance in the event of a medical emergency or a fire department if needed.

Whatever the system, Pennsylvania’s implementation won’t be an unfunded mandate.

If Alyssa’s Law is enacted in the state — and it should be — legislators shouldn’t argue about money.

Installation and maintenance costs would be part of the state’s education budget and should be required in retrofits as well as new construction.

Devices like these, and even simpler versions, have become part of our daily lives to protect our property and investments. Cameras monitor homes inside and out. Sensors look for motion and fire. We guard our internet connections with encryption to prevent theft or illicit use.

It’s only right that we use these silent alarms and technology to protect our children.

Lawmakers in Harrisburg should bank on that.

ED SOCHA | tneditor@tnonline.com

ED SOCHA is a retired newspaper editor with more than 40 years’ experience in community journalism. Reach him at tneditor@tnonline.com.

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.