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Tech companies pitch proposals to improve Alabama school safety

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Members of the School Safety Advisory Commission heard from several tech companies recently  on how to make schools more secure, presentations that will ultimately help shape the commission’s recommendations to lawmakers.

Among those presenting was Alex Carney, former U.S. Marine Corps special operations officer and COO of Critical Response Group, a public safety company that develops emergency response tools, oftentimes for school systems.

“The basics of what my partners and I did when we started this company, we took a mapping communication technique that we used every day and every night overseas during counter-terrorism operations, and we took that and we adapted it to domestic infrastructure, starting with schools,” Carney said. 

“At this point, we’ve probably mapped 15,000 schools and a lot of other infrastructure. For us, this was born out of necessity.”

Services provided by CRG include advanced infrastructure mapping that allows school staff to seamlessly communicate location data with first responders. That software, Carney said, is designed to easily integrate into communication channels often used by public school systems.

Commission members also heard from Brad Spicer, who oversees safety and emergency management for Navigate 360, another public safety company. 

Spicer, a U.S. Army veteran and former state trooper and swat team member, said that his company offered a “wholistic school safety solution,” and argued school safety was more achievable by equipping school staff with the necessary tools to effectively communicate in emergency situations.

“I was able to look at how schools should prepare, and I had an epiphany that there’s really two separate responses; there’s the school response, and there’s the public safety response, (and) the school response is the one that saves more lives,” Spicer said. 

“That is not to fault public safety, that’s not just because of Uvalde, that’s just the reality; they’re there on the scene.”

Beyond school mapping, Navigate 360 also offers behavioral threat assessment programs, and already works with a number of schools across Alabama.

“School safety is complicated, and there is no one magic solution,” he continued. “We keep passing laws, we keep making changes, (but) it doesn’t seem like we’re moving the needle in the right direction, so what I would really encourage the task force here to look at is kind of a different approach.”

Steven McKinney, founder of the public safety company nSide, shared his business’ services with commission members as well, which included school mapping, behavioral threat systems and portals through which anonymous tips can be submitted by school students and teachers.

“We have a lot of talented people in the state who have given their time and energy to help push the state forward in keeping our teachers and students safe,” McKinney said. “At the end of the day, school safety should be about building a better learning environment. What we want is the children and teachers to feel safe, because if they don’t, they can’t do their job.”

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, the co-chair of the commission, called all three of the presentations “very informative,” and said that a line of communication will be set up between the three companies and commission members to continue discussions on how best to improve school safety.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a starting point to a report that we can discuss and give recommendations, which will hopefully be sometime in February,” Collins said

Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, the commission’s other co-chair, noted that beyond advanced school security protocols and technology, creating a “culture of school safety” would be an essential inclusion in the commission’s final report.

“Speaker Ledbetter, one of his primary objectives is trying to find any gaps in our (school) security,” Baker said. “One of the things that was shared today was the desire to try to build a culture of school safety. That is something that will be very important.”

While it was established in 2016, the commission had not met for several years until being resurrected in 2023 at the direction of House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, with the goal being that the commission produce a report for lawmakers that would include recommendations as to how to improve school safety.

Last October, the commission met and identified the lack of resources for treating students with trauma as among the largest gaps in school safety, whereas a subsequent meeting in November centered around security system shortcomings that exist in the “vast majority” of Alabama’s public schools.

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