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Safer Schools With The Push Of A Button?

SOUTHLAKE (CBS 11 NEWS) - Carroll ISD in Southlake will try to make school campuses safer this fall with just the push of a button. It is the latest effort to try to protect students, this one coming in the form of a small black box, no bigger than what you use to unlock your car.

Under a pilot program, CISD has purchased 100 devices from Dallas-based eTrak. Small enough to wear on a lanyard, or even keychain, they use GPS and Wi-Fi signals to constantly track the users location, down to the very classroom they are in. When the one button on the box is pressed, it sends a panic signal to school officials and 9-1-1 operators, instantly showing them a map on phones and computers with the location of the emergency.

CISD is the first district in North Texas to use the device. The company said it is in discussions with as many as 30 more districts across the country.

CISD started an aggressive safety review following the school shooting in Connecticut in December. As a result, armed police officers will work on every campus this fall. Playgrounds will be fenced in. High school students will wear ID badges. The eTrak is being used in an effort to cut down response time in case of an emergency.

"This device is not going to stop a Sandy Hook from happening," said executive director of communications Julie Thannum. "But the one thing it will do is when someone pushes the button, we'll be able to tell where they are in that building."

eTrak CEO John Harris started the company with kids in mind. He has a niece with autism, who wanders away sometimes. He looked for a tracking device, but found most were too bulky, not user friendly, and not accurate. Having spent a career in the tech industry, he decided to build a new one.

The company has sold the device to track people, pets and packages. They have partnerships with Alzheimer's, downs syndrome and autism groups. It was only this winter, when they saw an application in schools.

"It's an immediate notification," Harris said. "Whereas a lot of schools right now if they do have a dangerous situation pending, it can take them, three, four, five, maybe seven minutes to get a notification up."

School GPS
eTrek device (credit: CBS 11 News)

Programmers are already working on new generations of the device to provide instant notification across an entire network when there is an emergency. Work has also started on a device that would allow for voice communication during an emergency.

Thannum believes it will likely be used during medical emergencies, or family disputes at first.

"But think about a teacher out on the playground that has this device, that doesn't have to get into the building to get help, but can actually stay with the student," she said.

The district will evaluate the program after a year, which comes with recurring costs to monitor the devices.

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