A program new to schools in Somerset County will enable a teacher to push a button on a cellphone or other device in an active shooter situation, alerting all law enforcement officers in the area within four seconds.

Those officers, whether on or off-duty, could be at the scene quickly, saving critical response time. They could immediately view on their devices the layout of the school and in what room the incident is occurring.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster initiated the program, which is expected to launch this fall in Skowhegan, Canaan and Norridgewock schools in School Administrative District 54, as well as at Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield.

The Sheriff’s Office applied for and received an $88,000 federal grant to fund the program for the first year.

Mike Sielicki, regional director of Kologik, presents Campus Safe training for an active shooter situation to law enforcement officials from multiple state and federal agencies at the Somerset County sheriff’s department in Madison on Wednesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Lancaster hopes other schools will sign on. With current systems, three or four minutes may pass before critical information is relayed.

“We’re always looking at ways to shorten our response time,” Lancaster said Wednesday at his office. “This program is going to allow us to get that information immediately, within four seconds.”

The “Campus Safe” program is offered by the Kologik company, whose regional director, Mike Sielicki, was at the Sheriff’s Office Wednesday to train law enforcement officers who work in the field on how the system works. Sielicki trained a total of about 50 people in three sessions, including Somerset Sheriff’s deputies, State Police troopers, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife game wardens, U.S. Border patrol agents and Skowhegan police.

Training for others, including commanding officers, already had taken place, according to Lancaster.

“This was specifically for line officers that will get the alert — they are going to be first,” he said.

He added that police chiefs in Skowhegan, Fairfield and Pittsfield are on board with the effort.

“They embraced this program along with troop (state police) division commanders, the lieutenant of the warden service, U.S. Border patrol,” Lancaster said. “We have done something unique by getting every agency to want to participate, and that’s a good thing. It’s better for the citizens of Somerset County.”

Sielicki explained that a teacher suspecting an active shooter situation is about to occur, or experiences an active situation, may push an app on his or her cellphone, tablet, computer screen or other device, and law enforcement, including public safety dispatchers, will be alerted on their cellphones, mobile data terminals and other devices.

Mike Sielicki, regional director of Kologik presents Campus Safe training for an active shooter situation to law enforcement officials from multiple state and federal agencies at the Somerset County sheriff’s department in Madison on Wednesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“Use this system to your advantage,” Sielicki said. “It’s a robust system, but it’s very easy to use.”

The program also allows for dispatchers and law enforcement to alert teachers and other school personnel directly about other issues such as traffic problems and weather events. And it can be used for two-way chatting, including when a situation is resolved and students and school officials who may have scattered to other areas may come back together.

Lancaster said the genesis for acquiring such a program was the active shooter situations that have occurred elsewhere in the country.

Contacted later Wednesday about the program, School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said school officials are hoping for an October launch for the program. The schools’ information technology department is collaborating with the sheriff’s office on setting it up. SAD 54 includes schools in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Canaan.

“The school board reviewed it last spring and decided it was a worthwhile way to enhance our safety for kids in terms of reducing response time,” Colbry said. “It’s all about reducing the time it takes to involve the authorities in the situation.”

More than a year ago, Lancaster started the grant process in motion and chose Kologik’s program after the company demonstrated the product.

“I wanted a company that had a good track record, and I was looking at actual cost, and Kologik was the logical choice to move forward,” he said.

Kristen Washburn, who works on grants for the Sheriff’s Office and has been facilitating all communications between Kologik and law enforcement administrators, said the office received notice in September last year that the $88,000 grant, Stop School Violence Threat Assessment and Technology Reporting Program, was approved.

Mike Sielicki, regional director of Kologik, presents Campus Safe training for an active shooter situation to law enforcement officials from multiple state and federal agencies at the Somerset County sheriff’s department in Madison on Wednesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Lancaster opened up the program to other law enforcement, including local police chiefs, and met with school superintendents in the county. While SAD 54 and Good Will-Hinckley are signed on, Lancaster is waiting to hear from other school districts that are interested and said he expects others will follow suit once they realize the program benefits. Schools that are in the program actually contract with Kologik, he said.

“I think everyone — law enforcement, school administrators — understands the importance of protecting our students and protecting our staffs,” he said. “We know that some of these shooters look for what we refer to as ‘soft targets.’ This is another level of security that we’re adding to the schools. The ability for the teachers, staff, to get hold of police directly — I think that’s a huge advantage.”

Sielicki, who formerly was chief of police at several departments in New Hampshire, said his company contracts with colleges, courthouses, town halls and community centers — anywhere that police chiefs think there is a need. Since Monday, he had trained more than 1,000 school staff in Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

He confirmed that  Somerset’s program is unusual because it includes law enforcement from various agencies — a scenario that doesn’t manifest as well in other places where there are jurisdictional boundaries.

“Training is key and sharing information is key,” Sielicki said. “What the sheriff is doing here is very unique because he’s bringing in stakeholders including local police, county, State Police, fish and game, and all your federal agencies.”

Lancaster said that, when it comes to the safety of students and staff, working together is paramount.

“We’re not in competition,” he said. “We have to have the same goal of keeping our teachers and students safe, making it a safe environment for them.”

He said that now, if a teacher were to hear a gunshot and-or someone screaming, he or she would instinctively process what’s going on, call a principal or other supervisor, who then has to process the information, and then he or she, in turn, would call 911. A public safety dispatcher must process the information before sending out a message to officers.

“That takes, maybe, one, two minutes,” Lancaster said. “This (alert) takes four seconds and the police get it directly.”

Mike Mitchell, Somerset County Sheriff’s chief deputy, who sat in on the training, said officials hope the program will spread across the county.

“The response time could be seconds, rather than minutes,” he said.

At the end of the third training, which was held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, law enforcement officers were asked if they had questions or comments about the program.

“I think it looks great,” said Trooper Garrett Booth of Maine State Police.

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