St. Johns County schools already getting tips through FortifyFL app

Promoting school safety? There's an app for that

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - A new app designed to keep students safe in school by letting them submit anonymous tips about suspicious activity is already getting results in Northeast Florida.

FortifyFL was created by Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Education in response to the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Though it was created with students and parents in mind, the app is free to download and is available for anyone to use to anonymously report potential threats or suspicious activity directly to school districts and law enforcement.

WEIGH IN: Does this app make you feel safer? Take our poll below.

“After Parkland, I made it my mission to ensure that when students provide information that could potentially save lives, there would be a centralized tool they could use to quickly send that information to the right authorities,” said Bondi. “FortifyFL is designed to do just that.”

Launched last month, the app provides school administrators with a valuable tool that could help them thwart school violence before it happens, said Paul Abbatinozzi, senior director for school services for the St. Johns County School District.

“The opportunity for us to receive information, engage in advance, provide services for students on whatever level that might be, it certainly is something that could help us in the event of stopping something from occurring,” Abbatinozzi told News4Jax.

The FortifyFL app covers nearly 7,000 schools across the state. Since the app went live Oct. 22, an estimated 148 tips have been reported using it statewide. Of those, six were reported in St. Johns County.

It’s easy to use. After downloading the app, users open it up and are given the option to “Report a Tip.” From there, they’re asked if it’s an emergency. They can then select the school and enter any relevant details and photos. There’s also an option to dial 911.

In many ways, the app behaves a lot like a virtual tip line. Once tips are reported by users, they’re monitored by employees from several agencies, including school districts, local law enforcement and state authorities.

Abbatinozzi gave News4Jax a live demonstration. After following each of the steps detailed above, he submitted a test report to show us how quickly it works. Within seconds of filing the report, his phone rang with the notification.

“I can’t sit here and say, ‘It’s the be-all end-all, it’s going to stop every tragedy,’ but the acquisition of information for situations that may result in harm to a student or disruption of a school function or something of that nature is valuable to us,” he said.

Abbatinozzi said the majority of the tips the district has received so far have been related to possible violations of the student code of conduct. But even so, he said administrators still view it as a key way to stay plugged in.

“We see it as a very valuable asset for us to continue that line of communication and help parents be a part of the safety and security of our school district," he said.

The app is free of charge on the Apple App Store and Google Play. To download it from your favorite platform, learn more about the app’s features or report a tip directly to the proper authorities, visit GetFortifyFL.com.

So, does this app make you feel safer about going to school, or about sending your children off to school? We want to hear from you. Weigh in using our poll below and we will reveal those results on air on News4Jax at 5.

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