Florida Officials Launch Campaign to Dispel Teachers' Fears Over Panic Button App

Florida officials are trying to dispel teachers' concerns that the mobile panic button app SaferWatch will track the teachers and their information on their cellphones, the Associated Press reported.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, only 16 percent of school staff have downloaded the app since it became available two months ago. The app was created to comply with Alyssa's Law, which requires school districts to have some sort of mobile panic button. This law was put in place last year after Alyssa Alhadeff and 16 others were killed in a school shooting on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The app works by connecting schools directly with a 911 communications center, where users can send messages and photos to a dispatcher, and also has the ability to automatically access cameras in the building where the alert came from.

Many are hesitant to download the app as they believe it could track employees and access information on their phones. But according to Broward County officials, the app only works inside schools and only accesses location information when the panic button on the app is initiated.

"We're in the process of making sure the misinformation is corrected and people have a deeper understanding of what this app does," said Vickie Cartwright, the interim superintendent in Broward County.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Florida Teachers Panic Button App
Florida officials are striving to dispel teachers' fears that the mobile panic button app SaferWatch will track the teachers and their information on their cellphones. Above, flowers, candles and mementos sit outside one of the makeshift memorials at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 27, 2018. (RHONA WISE/AFP via Getty Images)

Participation is also low statewide, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a recent meeting of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, which is investigating the shooting. Gualtieri, who chairs the commission, said only about five people in any given school have the app on their phone.

SaferWatch is revising language in its user agreement to try to make people feel more comfortable.

They're also partnering with the Broward Teachers Union to urge its members to download it.

"I've done some testing. I've taken it outside the parameters of a school to see if it works. No it doesn't," said Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union, told the newspaper. "It's completely safe. This app is solely to protect lives."

Teachers reluctant to use the app include Eric Garner, a TV production teacher who was at Stoneman Douglas the day of the shooting.

"There were some red flags. It talks about having access to camera roll and access to websites you've been on," he said.

He voiced those concerns at a recent meeting of the Stoneman Douglas Commission, and the president of SaferWatch, Geno Roefaro, contacted him. Garner said the discussion went well, but he still hasn't downloaded the app.

Roefaro told the newspaper he's changing the language in the user agreement to clarify what the app does.