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Guest View II

Thursday, February 7, 2019 by The Press in Opinion

Speak up and save lives

Last year, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed, and Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 44, which establishes the Safe2Say Something program in each of the more than 500 school districts in Pennsylvania.

The explanation and training involved with this program began in mid-January, and the goal is to have every district on board within the next several months.

The program is already paying dividends. On Jan. 17, Hazleton police say a 14-year-old student was apprehended after threatening gun violence at the district’s elementary-middle school.

Less than two hours after receiving the tip, police were at the boy’s home where they found a loaded .45-caliber handgun.

S2SS is an anonymous reporting system that overlays the 911 emergency call to give an extra level of protection to students and staff.

Overseen by the state Attorney General’s office, the program is intended to recognize danger signs from those who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others and to allow those who might be familiar with what is going on to report anonymously this information through the S2SS app, website or round-the-clock crisis center hotline.

This program is a partnership with Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization formed after the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, that resulted in the deaths of 20 students and six adults.

This program has tremendous promise. Any reasonable steps we can take to head off school shootings or other calamities within our schools are worthwhile.

Your first reaction might be: Won’t there be a lot of false alarms that cause disruptions to the learning process and the day-to-day activities that encompass school life?

There are ways to hold pranksters accountable, just as when they call in fake bomb or other threats. The key to this program is its ability to save lives and prevent injuries to possibly hundreds of innocent victims.

If there are a few unverified or inaccurate tips, I don’t see this as a deal-breaker.

I can’t stress enough the app does not take the place of 911 but is an extra form of safety. The app is free. It can be downloaded for Android or Apple users. The website is safe2saypa.org.

According to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, here is how the program works: A tip is submitted through the app, website or crisis center hotline (844-SAF2SAY) (844-723-2729). The tip is evaluated to gather further information, then delivered to the affected school district and local law enforcement agencies.

They assess the alleged threat and intervene with the involved individual or group. After the case is closed, the school district must keep a record of the incident.

The key is to train those receiving the tips to ensure there is enough information to act upon, establish two-way anonymous dialogue with tipsters to get missing information, categorize the tip into whether it is a life-safety or non-life-threatening event to prioritize its seriousness, and, finally, send the information to the affected school district and law enforcement authorities.

This platform allows two-way dialogue with tipsters and makes it possible to see screen shots of the reported threats or suspicious activity that has been posted online.

Each public, private and charter school district is expected to name a lead coordinator to supervise training and a three- to five-member team that is responsible to receive and act upon tips.

This team also will be responsible for maintaining and sustaining S2SS in a long-term relationship with Sandy Hook Promise, which will support local efforts. Adoption of the program will mean that “everyone is speaking the same language,” said Nicole Hockley, who founded Sandy Hook Promise after her son, Dylan, died in the Sandy Hook shootings.

Since the program involves one app and one universal training program, it is basically a one-size-fits-all approach to the problem of school safety.

Those who are at-risk of hurting others or themselves will often show signs or signals before acting. When you don’t know what to look for, it is easy to miss signs or dismiss them as unimportant. Doing so can result in tragic consequences.

This is why we are all encouraged to say something if we hear or see something that looks or sounds off or raises red flags. Your actions can save lives.

Nearly 3.5 million people have taken the Sandy Hook Promise, in which they promise to do all that they can to “protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, school and communities.”

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Editor’s note: Bruce Frassinelli is Bruce Frassinelli is a former newspaper editor and currently a contributor to the opinion page of the TIMES NEWS, our sister daily newspaper.