Palo Alto school maintenance foreman develops emergency-response system

Safeguard Notifier revamps, streamlines communication in the event of an on-campus emergency

In the event that a shooting were to take place at one of Palo Alto Unified School District's 17 campuses, teachers would follow a long-held safety procedure: Rush to tape a color-coded piece of paper to the outside of their classroom doors to indicate the safety or lack thereof inside the room (green means "all are safe and accounted for," red means "immediate help is needed"); close the doors (they lock from the outside); turn off the lights and gather quietly with their students to wait for law enforcement to arrive. They might think to call 911; they might not.

To Mike Jacobs, a Palo Alto parent and longtime Palo Alto Unified maintenance employee, this process is archaic, inefficient and unsafe.

"In a day and age like today where we have so much technology at our fingertips, it's not practical," Jacobs said. "We can make these (procedures) so much better."

And so, this spring, Jacobs founded Safeguard School Systems, hoping to bring school safety into the 21st century with the invention of a device that streamlines communication in the event of an on-campus emergency.

The Safeguard Notifier, a discreet, small black box that Jacobs hopes will be mounted outside classrooms above their doors, is equipped with a small LED light to replace the color-coded card system. It similarly flashes green if all inside are safe; blue if not everyone is accounted for (for example, a student may have gone to the restroom before the campus lockdown began); red if assistance is needed. The red light is accompanied by a loud Piezo horn that can immediately alert law enforcement where they need to go first.

The second the device is activated teachers do this with the push of a single button on a key fob that they can hang from a lanyard or key chain multiple things happen. A call is automatically placed to 911. The door is locked with a 1,200-pound electromagnetic door locking system (that weight is the minimum). Schools can opt to have cameras installed in classrooms; if so, they are also instantaneously activated to provide first responders real-time monitoring.

"To think that we can close the door, turn off our lights, lock everything up and act like no one's home and think that that's sufficient enough, it's not," Jacobs said. "What we're doing is we're leaving our law enforcement professionals in the dark. When they arrive at the scene, they don't know what to do. There's no communication. They don't know if the shooter is in a room; they don't know if the folks in the classrooms are OK."

Jacobs, a father of three young children, said in the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, he felt compelled to do something to improve school safety.

"I just thought to myself, 'Something's got to change,'" he said.

So Jacobs, a maintenance/operations foreman with expertise in the electrical field, invented the simple emergency-response device. He has spent time talking to local law enforcement, teachers, administrators and students about what they would like to see in such a system to ensure it meets all of their needs.

"What are the challenges that they're facing? What are some of the things they don't like about the procedures that are in place? One of the common problems that teachers have with current procedures is that they do have to run to the door and lock the door themselves," Jacobs said.

Jacobs is continuing these discussions and said he's meeting with a recently retired Bay Area police chief next month to discuss a potential partnership.

Much of Safeguard's work is also informed by a 2004 school safety report issued by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education on preventing school violence. A major takeaway from the report is that schools should no longer approach school safety passively, said Safeguard partner and advisory board member Robert Gonzalez. Gonzalez, a corporate recruiter and father with a military background, is a longtime friend of Jacobs. He said knowing Jacobs as someone who works passionately with and for youth, from participating in youth outreach programs to working with troubled teenagers, made him immediately want to join the Safeguard team.

"Eventually, when a teacher communicates the condition of their room, that specific condition notification will reach the 911 dispatch level," Jacobs said. "Dispatch can then communicate those conditions to officers without even having to speak to teachers directly. Those officers will also be able to log into our software directly from their squad cars and make risk-informed decisions with real-time visuals into each area. The more confusion that we're able to eliminate, the less time an attacker has to hurt someone."

The company has yet to officially approach Palo Alto Unified, or any district, to roll out the Safeguard Notifier. The company is still "in the seed stage of the seed stage," Gonzalez joked, and struggling to find funding.

"We want to take this and we want to be able to productize it," Gonzalez said. "The major hurdle that we're having right now is investors."

The company launched an ambitious crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo early last month, hoping to raise $150,000 by Dec. 5. The funds would help the company expand its hardware and software capabilities and pay for a pilot installation at a Bay Area school, a test they want to do free of cost but which would involve costs for manufacturing, installation, operating, permits and more.

Jacobs and Gonzalez see themselves as pioneers in the still emerging field of school-safety technology. Across the nation, some companies and schools have looked at implementing automated communication systems. Just this week, 20 public schools in New York tested out a system that links school radios, phones and mobile devices to emergency-dispatch systems and allows school officials to instantly share video, audio or other data with law enforcement. Other organizations are checking out smartphone applications that target emergency response. But Jacobs and Gonzalez see Safeguard Notifier as a more comprehensive, all-encompassing system, and they said they are ready to roll it out so that kids are as safe as possible.

"We want to take this (to schools)," Gonzalez said. "It's real. ... We want to bring it out to the market and make it a reality for schools."

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2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:11 am

We still don't know what worked in our emergency preparedness when the Challenger School had an incident a few weeks ago. Surely even a mistake can be a useful tool in assessing the readiness of our police and local schools?

The biggest problem we know about is that there was no way to control regular traffic from just getting in the way. Have any changes in procedures been made by PAPD as a result?

Or are we still not allowed to know anything about this event?

8 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 9:16 am

91 School Shooting since Sandy Hook. Schools have to prepare because it's not if, but when. Our system of government has failed to keep our schools safe.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident and Parent
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 21, 2014 at 10:00 am

This system is exactly what we need to see in our schools from elementary up to college level. In the recent Florida State incident, the shooter was caught in the library. In an incident like that with people in the library, there is no telling what damage an attacker can do. A system like the Safeguard Notifier would actually keep the attacker out of rooms and out in the open where police can pin them down. I don't understand why no one is investing in this company. It's a no-brainer

2 people like this
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 12:15 pm

This system, as described above, is incredibly complicated, dependent on grid power, or a significant battery for power, and would require constant testing to insure that it would be functional all of the time.

Also missing from the article would be the per unit cost, the cost of centralized equipment, and any yearly update costs. (Even though some of these costs might be unknown at the moment--there is no reason not to make an estimate.)

With schools now virtually all using the wireline/wireless Internet, and in-class telephones/cell phones pretty ubiquitous--got to wonder if there isn't a simpler system that could be devised?

15 people like this
Posted by a grandmothers
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Those who attack schools, know the schedule and have studied their plan of attack. Our district current plan, to turn lights off and pretend that no one is home, will not work.

With today's advanced technology we need more, we need to safeguard our schools, a green paper and a peace of tape will not do. It is our duty and schools duty to help along Safeguard Notifier to make schools safer for our children. Let us make it happen.

I will do my part, I have 4 grandchildren in the district.

1 person likes this
Posted by Safety Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Technology is a double edged sword when it comes to security.

For example, people might think it would be a good idea to have cameras on campus so the main office could easily monitor any security issues.

However, if the intruder makes it into the office and uses the system- they can now survey the entire school and know when, where and how the first responders are closing in.

I'm just happy this starts a long overdue conversation about how well thought out our current plans are...

13 people like this
Posted by A Matter of Time
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 21, 2014 at 8:33 pm

I suspect it is merely a matter of time before we have a school shooter on one of the PAUSD campuses. Especially in light of all the unresolved bullying that goes on in the middle schools and high schools. As in the Columbine shootings, for example, in which two long-bullied kids vowed to " get even" for years of peer abuse.

13 people like this
Posted by Interested Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 9:30 pm

Safeguard has a unique approach. As a parent of school aged children, I think it's nice to hear about someone "thinking outside the box" on this issue.

With all the options the system seems to provide, it would make sense for all schools to at least automate the color coded card procedure. It's simply taking an old procedure and making it better.

ANY use of technology can be a double edged sword, but its also important to note that no safety plan is full proof. Even the most guarded facilities in America have proven to be vulnerable.

The world of technology isn't slowing down and it's expanding into every field imaginable. Why not school safety?

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2014 at 9:38 pm

I think there is a very poor safety plan at our schools, although I could be wrong.

The reason I am saying this is because whatever plans are there are a big secret. There are obviously some good reasons for keeping a lot of this secret, but there are some things that parents should be aware of and this just isn't the case.

They have various drills in school, but these are all done in class time. What would happen if there was an emergency 15 minutes before or after class, or in a passing period, or brunch, or lunch? Do the schools know what would happen then? Do the students?

There is no way of preventing students from turning up at school with a 15 minute warning. Text alerts to all staff, parents and students are not available. The schools answer is to check emails or Infinite Campus is not practical in an emergency. We need to have text alerts and these need to be emergency only and not for non emergencies because once that starts happening they will be ignored.

Our schools cannot be put on emergency lockdown efficiently as there are too many entrances and there are no gates that can be shut. Likewise, there is no way of knowing exactly who is on campus at any one time due to the open campus policy and although we don't want to necessarily end this policy, we do need to have some technological method of accounting for all students at any one time. I should think that some type of technology could be used for immediate check in for all students in an emergency could be invoked.

Particularly now with the construction still ongoing, it is not easy to spot a suspicious person on campus. Even bikes can be stolen during class time, so getting some security cameras at strategic points around the campus, particularly at street entrances to the campus, would make a lot of sense and would probably help the bike thefts problem too.

It is about time that the security of our schools was discussed by the community as a whole. It doesn't just have to be an unthinkable tragedy, but something as simple as a fire or similar that should be planned for.

1 person likes this
Posted by Colorado resident
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2014 at 2:51 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Donna Wilkie
a resident of Triple El
on Nov 27, 2014 at 10:53 am

Mike Jacobs shouldn't rely on a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo to fund this effort.

He wants to raise $150,000 by asking people on the Internet for money. So far, he's raised $356 (as of Thanksgiving Day) and has nine more days to go to raise the full amount.

The way to go to build this device is to raise capital from savvy investors, whether they be angel investors or venture capitalists.

They will ask hard questions. They'll force Jacobs and his people to put a lot more thought into both their product and into the type of environment in which they intend it to operate.

From the description that Elena Kadavny provides in this story, I can immediately see at least ten major issues that would plague the development and especially the operation of this device.

Savvy investors would immediately raise these questions, and many more, before choosing to invest.

Crowdfunding this type of product development doesn't make sense. I'd advise Jacobs to raise money in a more traditional fashion. He is after all in the Bay Area, and real investors grow on trees around here.

7 people like this
Posted by Impressed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2014 at 5:30 pm

I would advise the inventor to keep doing what he's doing. He should try every option available to raise funds. Eventually, someone who knows the ropes and who genuinely cares about school safety will partner with this young man to make it happen.
As far as the US school security integration market is concerned, it's projected to be 4.9 billion dollar market by 2017. Maybe this young man has done some thinking already...who are we to say? I'm sure he's more concerned about school safety though.

6 people like this
Posted by Police Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 27, 2014 at 8:09 pm

It is important to note that no one has died in a school fire for more than 56 years. That's something widely known in school safety today. That record is something to work with--fire safety is a combination of technology(complex fire alarm systems), practice and education. It's a successful framework that has cost our district (tax payers) millions of dollars to implement, but a framework that could potentially save the lives of our children.

I'm sure that our "lockdown" drills work beautiful in practice, but no one anticipates how quickly an emergency unfolds. Why don't we have systems like Safeguard in place already? Our firemen can respond to a school fire and know exactly where to go because of the systems we have in place. It seems that this inventor is trying to accomplish the same for the OTHER half of our first responders. I for one am all for it. I sincerely hope that this company manages to get off the ground and that the inventor has his intellectual property rights in place. Finally, someone gets it!

Like this comment
Posted by Saving lives
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 2, 2015 at 4:29 pm

It's about time that someone has finally came up with a product that can improve the safety of our kids. It's been far to long that the current system has been out dated and not up to standards in protecting our kids. We have fire protection throughout all our schools and this equipment with fire drills protects all the people within that school. It would be truly sad if we just sit and do nothing when we could of had this equipment installed to save our kids lives. Nothing is full proff in life but with this system we stand a better chance in protecting our kids. Our kids have a right to feel safe in schools and not have to worry about being hurt or killed on campus. As for the office monitoring and spying on each classroom, from what I read about this product, the teachers in each classroom has the control to turn the system on in an emergency, as well as staff that might be in a hall, cafitetia, front office but it's only in the area where the problem is. This system is amazing. The teacher activates one of the three buttons on the key fab which automatically locks the door of her classroom, protecting the kids and the teacher, with that same press of the button it notifies the police, the police can see in the classroom by their laptops mobile phone before even arriving at the school, causing less confusion and wasted time trying to figure out where the problem is in the school.
The system also lights up above each classroom door, if it lights up green that means everything in the classroom is safe, if it lights up blue, there are students that are out of the classroom, if it lights up red the the police can see the classroom right away and know that's where the problem is. This product seems to be making progress with law enforcement officials taking out the guess work, saving valuable time, and the response time would be greatly improved. Some have sugested this system needs a lot of maintenance and very costly, but from what I have read it's very cost affective, way cheaper then installing a fire alarm system in a school, and it only needs once a year maintains. Even a fire alarm system requires maintains to keep it up and running. Fire marshals check systems regularly weather it's schools, office buildings all safety required buildings.
This system will protect lives, the lives of this countries future. Glad someone has finally taken the time to make this product to protect our kids.

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