Bangor Superintendent James Tager explains the school department's new emergency alert system in the Fourteenth Street School on Jan. 19, 2023. Credit: Kathleen O'Brien / BDN

Bangor schools formally launched a new emergency alert system on Thursday that allows school staff to call for first responders and police instantly in the case of a school shooting or lower-level problem.

The new system, which is activated when a school staff member pushes a button on a wearable badge, is designed to be simpler, faster and more exact than relying on someone to call 911 or use a phone app to report an emergency, Superintendent James Tager said.

The Bangor School Department partnered with Centegix, an Atlanta company that provides a crisis alert system designed for large education, health care and commercial spaces, in late  September. Some 250 school districts across the Southeast already use the system, and Bangor is the first in New England.

Pressing the button three times will alert an in-school emergency team of a lower-level problem, such as a medical episode, mental health crisis or student conflict, Jeff Downs, a Centegix representative, told the school committee last September. Outside law enforcement will not automatically be called in these cases.

If a staff member presses the button continuously until it beeps, it will signal a larger crisis, such as an active shooter, and local law enforcement will automatically be notified. Lights in the school will flash, every screen in the school will show an emergency notification, and the school intercom system will play an alert message telling students to lock down, Tager said.

The platform is designed to be faster and more reliable than using a cell phone to call for help or report an emergency, because the system doesn’t use a school’s Wi-Fi or local cell service. It can be cumbersome in an emergency if schools use a reporting system platform on an app or relies on staff to call 911, Downs said.

The five-year deal for the system cost the department $409,000, according to Tager.

No matter the kind of alert, the system tells first responders exactly where in the school the emergency is happening and who pushed the button, Tager said. The system can also be used elsewhere on school campuses, including playgrounds, parking lots and athletic fields.

Kaeleigh Bowen, a senior at Bangor High School, said the new alert system gives her peace of mind at school because she knows her teachers can easily and immediately call for help in the event of an emergency.

“Obviously it’s not something we ever want to use, but knowing it’s there if it’s ever necessary is important,” Bowen, 18, said. “It allows me to clear my mind and focus on school.”

The company has slowly been installing the system and training staff how to use it, Bangor School Department spokesperson Ray Phinney said. The alert system has already been used four times since Bangor schools implemented it on Jan. 3.

Staff used it the first time to address a student having an emergency in Bangor High School and the teacher wasn’t near a phone at the time, Phinney said. The issue was resolved by in-school personnel within a few minutes, didn’t require outside first responders and didn’t involve other students, Phinney said.

“Because of the ability to get assistance quickly, the teacher doesn’t need to step away from or turn their back to the student who needs help,” Phinney said. “The teacher can continue to address the issue while calling for help.”

The department decided last September to upgrade its emergency alert system after a lone gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in late May, Tager said.

“Uvalde was a game-changer for me,” Tager said. “Parents trust us with their students, and that’s the greatest gift they have. Students have a lot of great opportunities at our schools, but none of that can happen without having safety first.”

Shanna Downs, a superintendent from Georgia whose school district was among the first districts to implement Centegix, said the system kept her students safe in two major emergencies at schools in her district.

One day, state police were involved in a high-speed chase that was headed for a campus with two schools while children were playing outside. When she heard, she locked down the campus and children were safe inside when the pursuit stopped on the school grounds.

“The suspects jumped out of the vehicle — they were armed — and started running between the schools while all of our students were behind closed doors and safe,” she said. “It was terrifying. My child was one of the children on the playground that afternoon, and I knew he was safe behind closed doors.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...