False alarms hamper new school-based alert system in St. Johns County

Inadvertent active shooter alarms at three SJC schools trigger parent concerns

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County School District said its working to exterminate some bugs from its adoption of a new, remote panic alert system in response to the passage of Alyssa’s Law.

In St. Johns County’s district, the system’s alarm is controlled by one-button, remote devices carried by every member of the school’s faculty, with 8-button presses indicating that an armed assailant is on campus.

On Monday, the district says two false alarms were sent out, prompting school-wide security measures at Liberty Pines Academy. The district said false alarms have also been triggered this school year at Creekside and Bartram Trail High Schools.

“We’ve had a few schools through the year that have had some inadvertent pushes,” said Paul Abbatinozzi, Senior Director for School Services for the district. “We certainly respond quickly, in conjunction with law enforcement who we are certainly blessed to have as a partner in this school district. I think it’s part of the growing pains with utilizing a new system.”

The alert system is controlled by remote devices carried by every member of the faculty -- who can push a button a certain number of times for a given scenario. Three pushes indicate a general school-based scenario such as a medical emergency or other disasters. Eight pushed, however, is the specific code to warn about an active shooter on campus -- and that’s the alarm code that was triggered at Liberty Pines twice on Monday.

“The last thing we want is for people to be scared and nervous,” Abbatinozzi said. “We want people to be prepared - and so, I think it’s something we are very committed to, but something, no different than any other new system, we got to keep working.”

Abbatinozzi also said that the problem created by the occasional false alarm is far outweighed by the problem created when an alarm system doesn’t function properly when it needs to do so. In this case, though the alarm was false, Abbatinozzi said the system functioned as designed.