Crime

New School Shooting Technology From North Texas Is About Kids' Safety, Not Stopping the Shooter

A new technology developed in North Texas aims to help students and teachers in the event of a school shooting.
A new technology developed in North Texas aims to help students and teachers in the event of a school shooting. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
With school shootings having become almost commonplace in the United States, school districts and law enforcement agencies have continued to search for ways to prevent them. A new technological program designed to assist faculty in the event of an active shooter takes the focus away from stopping the shooter by physically removing students and teachers away from the shooter as efficiently as possible.

“How do we stop the shooter is a great question for the police to ask,” says Ernie Williams, CEO of Farmers Branch-based Go-to-Green, who introduced its namesake program with the Pilot Point Independent School district last week. “But as a parent, my concern is more about if the people inside the school know how to get our kids to safety.”

Using security cameras integrated with sensors that pick up not only the sound of a gun firing, but the bullet’s path when it is fired by sensing its ballistic pressure, Go-to-Green’s chief feature is an overhead LED lighting system that provides what Pilot Point ISD Police Chief Brad Merritt calls “the pathway to safety.” It's one of the more innovative new approaches to school safety since last year's Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, when 21 people were murdered.

Williams says this multi-pronged program is the first of its kind anywhere, and that Pilot Point ISD is the first entity to employ it. The program was developed and demonstrated for nearly two years inside the vacant Collin Creek Mall in Plano prior to the mall's being torn down for redevelopment. Williams and Merritt first discussed the Go-to-Green system about four years ago when Merritt was an officer with the Frisco Police Department and Williams was living in Dubai while keeping up with the news in the states.

Williams, a retired Marine with 23 years of service, had read about the Run. Hide. Fight. active shooter survival method, a widely circulated safety protocol developed in Texas. He felt it missed the mark by being too general and leaving too much to chance. He thought about how some of the students during the Columbine High School massacre of 1999 reportedly ran toward the two shooters, not away from them. Williams decided a system offering visual cues for students and faculty to follow would likely be more effective because when frightened or excited, people tend to have their eyes wide open.

Go-to-Green can work with a school's current security camera system and operates in a realm that’s uncomfortable for many, although it’s an all too realistic one. This technology isn’t going to stop the wrong people from getting guns, and it’s only indirectly going to keep an assailant from entering a school. (Sensors can be placed on doors to lock them if a gunshot is detected in a school’s parking lot). It’s almost as if Go-to-Green is a resource for the inevitability of a school shooting, not for the possibility of it.

“I get asked all the time ‘What can we do to stop school shootings?’" Merritt says. “And I understand why people want to prevent shootings from happening to begin with, of course, but I don’t think we can prevent a school shooting from happening if someone truly has the desire to do it. We can lock schools up like Fort Knox, and if someone wants to get into a school and start shooting bad enough, they’re going to do it. We have to be ready to mitigate the scenario and take care of the situation as soon as possible once it does happen.”

"I don’t think we can prevent a school shooting from happening if someone truly has the desire to do it." - Brad Merritt, Pilot Point ISD police chief

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Should a shooter be reported on a campus with Go-to-Green, the idea is that teachers and students will be able to simply follow green lights down a hall, into a room or out a door to safety, or stay where they are if a red light is displayed. Blinking strobe lights will alert first responders to where the shooter is in a given moment because, Merritt says, the school’s integrated camera system will “triangulate on the shooter to track him.”

Go-to-Green isn't intended to be an all-encompassing shooter safety solution. Merritt says it should be used as "an additional resource" along with a school's safety training, drills and even armed guardian and resource officer programs.

In addition to the sensors, camera and LED lighting system, a Go-to-Green operations center is manned by off-duty police and trained military veterans who will be in contact with involved authorities as the shooting is occurring. Williams says that since introducing the program last week, he has received calls from “universities, government agencies, school districts and municipalities in Utah, California, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida inquiring about Go-to-Green."

Williams says he’s “Second Amendment agnostic,” and that Go-to-Green is only about safety, and not about whether someone should have a gun. For his part, when a school shooting is happening, the politics of the moment aren't what matters.

“There needs to be a paradigm shift,” he says. “As a whole, we have to change how everybody is worried about the shooter. We can tell the police where the shooter is, but that doesn’t get our kids to safety by itself. This process isn’t really about cameras or even about how the police respond, but about getting people away from the gunshots.”
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Kelly Dearmore

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