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N.J. Assemblyman Says Panic Alarms In Schools Should Be A 'Mandate'

BELLEVILLE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- New Jersey Assemblyman Ralph Caputo said Monday that panic buttons should be a "mandate" for every public school in the state.

As CBS 2's Derricke Dennis reported, Caputo, a Democrat who represents Essex County, recently introduced a bill calling for the installation of silent panic alarms in schools with red strobe lights outside if activated.

The panic buttons would be on a wall, behind desks, or in the hands of every teacher or staff member.

"I believe it should be a mandate -- every public school, elementary and secondary school in the state," he said.

The panic buttons would sound a silent alarm through the main office, straight to police, in the event of a school shooting or some other threat. Caputo received suggestions from police officers for the idea in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Belleville Public Schools interim Superintendent Helene Feldman gave Caputo's idea a resounding endorsement.

"I think that's a fantastic idea," Feldman said.

Feldman said she also supports another suggestion that school doors lock automatically once the panic button is activated.

"Then everybody would be secure immediately," Feldman said. "You wouldn't have to fear for the loss of life of anybody who has to alert somebody in a hall, or go make a phone call in a main office."

Overall, the idea is to stop a gunman outside the school, or at least in the hallway, before they can reach students and staff and before they can get into a classroom.

In the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, police believe gunman Adam Lanza, 20, gained entrance to the school by shooting out a window right next to the front door. Once inside, he opened fire and killed 20 children ages 6 or 7, and six women.

Thus, he would have been able to get around the new security system that was put in place earlier this year, which includes a remote control lock and intercom with a video buzzer system to let visitors in.

The enhanced security of silent alarms went over well with New Jersey parents.

"I think it's a great idea," said Marie Graziano. "Anything for their safety, whatever they have to do, you know, do."

Parents said the buttons would be safer than an armed guard – the solution suggested by the National Rifle Association – or locking certain doors.

Security experts said there could be a drawback – false alarms. But even then, said security expert Yaron Erez: "It's etter safe than sorry. Even if it causes a few false alarms, so what?"

Erez said it is worth the risk to arm schools with the right touch.

The cost of a panic button system would depend on school size and the number of buttons. One estimate is about $3,000 to $5,000 per school.

Do you think the panic alarms are a good idea? Leave your comments below...

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