What is the purpose behind social media? To be social, right? Well, it’s not just a way to be connected to those you love during the holidays or maybe on your birthday. What if you were able to be notified a full minute and a half before dispatch put out the call of an active shooter at the local school on your beat? How about your kids’ school? What if I told you not only would you be notified, but so would every other law enforcement officer in a 10-mile radius? This is how social media is much more than just a way to socialize.
Retired Illinois State Police Colonel, Mike Snyders and a team of his compatriots have created the Hero911 app, which is part of the Hero911 Network, a nonprofit foundation. It went live in January and is designed to cut down response times during active shooter events at schools. Snyders was one of the first units on-scene at the Illinois capitol shooting a decade ago and has since worked tirelessly to create this app. He understands reducing response times equate to lives saved.
Every teacher and staff member downloads Hero911’s sister app, SchoolGuard to their smartphones. When a shooting occurs, the user taps a button within the app allowing it to do three things simultaneously: Dial 911 so the user can report the event to a dispatcher, alert every other user’s phone in their group of the incident in progress and alert every law enforcement user from every level (federal, state, county, etc.) within a 10-mile radius of the school.
Let me stop you there, because I know what you’re thinking. Cops are not only naturally distrusting of all new things, but we love to tear stuff apart. So, let’s get to it.
What’s to prevent teachers from activating the app from home, either inadvertently or purposefully? The app will only work inside a predetermined geo-fence set up around each specific school that signs up for the service. What if a kid grabs a teacher’s phone and hits the button as a prank? What’s to prevent some idiot kid from calling in a phony incident now? Exactly, there are no guarantees in life, so let’s move on.
How tactically sound is it to have law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions en route to an active shooter? Some of them may not be in uniform or otherwise readily identifiable, not to mention unable to communicate with one another. Snyders and his team had similar concerns. He explained Hero911 allows law enforcement users to acknowledge receipt of the initial call for assistance and “advise” if they’re responding in uniform or plain clothes. He hopes most off-duty cops keep some kind of go-bag, including their ID and credentials, in their vehicles. He also expects responding off-duty officers to notify their own dispatch of the activation and advise they’d be responding.
Snyders’ team is well aware of the increase in active shooter incidents in and around schools. Training should be ubiquitous at this point. When we’re training for these incidents, do we just run in willy-nilly or is there at least an attempt to create a plan, hasty as it may be? Snyders encourages responding officers to connect with the local jurisdiction and fill whatever role in which they’re needed.
Hero911 will work wherever you are. Should you vacation in the burgeoning metropolis of Joplin, Mo., and there happens to be a school shooting while you’re there, you’ll be notified. Snyders is quick to point out there’s no expectation to respond, but forewarned is forearmed and the app will allow you to give the area a wide berth.
How Do I Get It?
Officers can download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play. To register the app you’ll be required to provide your name, ID or badge number (and photo of your credentials), agency/department name, email address and cell phone number. This information is reviewed by active and retired LE working with Hero911. If there are any questions as to authenticity, an email is sent to your government email to clarify the issue. If you prefer not to submit your credential photo, you’ll need to confirm your registration through your government email address.
Future iterations of Hero911 will allow schools to upload floor plans as well. Imagine the tactical advantage you’d have if you had a multitude of responding units — and a map in the palm of your hand.
It would be very wise for every officer to tell the school staff of the SchoolGuard and Hero911 apps. The schools pay a set-up fee of $2,500 and a monthly fee of $99, but it’s one more layer of help should a mass shooting event occur. I think it’s money well spent. I know Mark Zuckerberg didn’t necessarily conceptualize this kind of perspective when he created Facebook, but Snyders has taken the ability to share an Amber Alert via Facebook to an entirely greater level.