Southern Virginia school division installs a gunshot detection system as a proactive safety measure.
MARTINSVILLE – School shootings. It’s not something people like thinking about. However, that’s been a part of T.J. Slaughter’s job for even longer than his service in his current director of school safety position for Martinsville.
The Martinsville City Public Schools employee formerly served as the school resource officer at Martinsville High School. With a background in law enforcement, Slaughter knew his fair share of information on what to do in an active shooter situation.
However, he also knew that a proper emergency response arose from quick-acting individuals alerting law enforcement of the issue. Tragically, that’s not always possible.
The longer it takes for someone to dial 911, the more devastating an active shooter situation becomes. When Slaughter learned about the EAGL gunshot detection system, he looked into installing multiple devices in every city school.
The process took about a year, but in a few months, the final sensor will activate, adding an extra layer of protection for students and staff.
How It Works
Walking into any school in the division, visitors might notice a smoke detector near the entrance. However, the small device doesn’t actually detect smoke.
“The sensor, it looks like a house fire alarm, pretty much,” Slaughter said. “It’s kind of out of sight, out of mind.”
Equipped with multiple sensors throughout each school upon completion, the alarm detects a certain, distinct noise.
A gunshot has a certain sound frequency. When someone fires a shot, that specific frequency triggers the detection system.
When the alarm detects a gunshot, the system automatically and immediately contacts emergency services. The 911 center receives a notification not only that someone fired a shot in a specific school building, but also where in that building the shot occurred.
Law enforcement officers also receive a text alert with the same information, which theoretically increases their rapid response rate.
The system also sends a text alert to school administrators.
“It’s immediate notification,” Slaughter said. “Law enforcement is probably going to know before administrators know that a gunshot has been detected.”
The device does not produce a loud, blaring panic alert like a fire alarm. It does not give any indication to students or staff – or the gunman – that an issue occurred.
“There’s no audible or anything that comes from the system,” Slaughter said.
That gives school administrators an opportunity to assess the situation and immediately provide the best lockdown strategy for the school. Also, it does not add to an already panicked situation for teachers trying to delegate the most safe and effective lockdown strategies in their classrooms.
Rapid Response for Martinsville
Pulling from his law enforcement background, Slaughter noted that gunshots sound different in various circumstances. For example, a shot fired outdoors doesn’t sound the same as a shot fired indoors.
The detection system helps eliminate human error in the valuable seconds after the first shot occurs.
“Somebody that’s not familiar with the gunshot sound, I guess, for lack of better terms, you know, I could foresee an administrator hearing something and maybe thinking it was a door slamming or something along those lines,” Slaughter said. “So this kind of takes the human element out of it. It’s just a quicker response time for law enforcement. Hopefully more lives [will be] saved with these sensors up.”
Since the sensors also send the location of the detected shots, it helps law enforcement plan their best approach.
“If you had a shooter who was moving throughout the building, those sensors would let the 911 center know, and law enforcement know, which direction the shooter’s going,” Slaughter said. “So coordinating response, officers will know which end of the building to enter in. It just kind of helps to take out some of the confusion when law enforcement first arrives on the scene.”
Slaughter explained how the system would help in an emergency situation.
“We’ll choose the high school for example. It’s a large building, a couple of different buildings. It’s not really connected, as far as Martinsville High School is concerned,” Slaughter said. “Let’s say an administrator is in their office at one end of the building. A gunshot’s detected on the other side of the building. They get the notification on their phone as well that a gunshot has been received. They can immediately put the school in lockdown.”
Grant Propels Martinsville Project
A grant from the Virginia Department of Education made the gunshot detection system possible. Slaughter explained that the grant benefited the school systems’ safety approach not only this year, but also in the past.
“For the past six or seven years the Department of Education has offered public school divisions in Virginia security equipment grants. They started out at $100,000 for the first, I think, five years. For the last two years, they’ve actually upped the grant to $250,000 that is available, that each school division can get,” Slaughter said. “We’ve been able to do a lot with these grants in a short period of time and they’ve really been helpful. Virginia’s approach has really been great for school safety – my personal opinion, that is. But they’ve really put the funding out there to give us the tools to take advantage of, to increase safety in our school divisions.”
Using grant funds for the gunshot detection system, MCPS first started the project under the previous funding cycle.
“We were able to only do the entrance areas at our schools in the beginning,” Slaughter said. “This grant cycle, we were able to do all of our buildings, throughout every building. Under this grant cycle, we’re able to finish the project out.”
Slaughter projected that the division will complete sensor installation by April.
“We are very appreciate to the Department of Education,” Slaughter said. “Like I said, I think Virginia really takes a positive role, positive stance, when it comes to school safety. Like I said, it’s really given school divisions what they’ve needed to improve safety in their buildings.”
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]