SCOTTSBLUFF - While parents and kids are getting ready for school, Scottsbluff Public Schools unveiled its own preparations, launching a new app for students and the community to provide tips and information to law enforcement and school officials.
The app, called See Something Send Something, is available on Apple and Google Play stores (listed on both platforms as See it, Say it, Send it app). James Todd, safety and security director for Scottsbluff Public Schools, and Kevin Angell, creator of the app, outlined the app for law enforcement and officials from local school districts during a press conference and training Tuesday.
Angell created the app after working in law enforcement for 12 years and serving in the military. He became a law enforcement consultant and traveled the nation. Colleagues told him of challenges in gathering digital information from people, and doing it in a mobile platform, in which people could remain anonymous or if they choose, identify themselves. Many people may be familiar with the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign, which Angell said served as an inspiration for the app, but gives a vehicle for gathering information.
In other campaigns, such as See Something, Say Something, “there may be phone numbers you can call, but they may be difficult to remember, and you may not feel that it relates to you locally,” he said.
The See Something Send Something app has been out for 18 months, Angell said. It was designed to be a community-based platform, but has been embraced by school districts.
“I never imagined it would be so big in schools,” he said. “It really has grown to a lot of student use.”
That makes sense, Angell said, noting that his own 15-year-old son tends to send him a photo from an app to communicate, rather than calling him or coming to talk to him.
“We have to meet them (students) on that ground,” he said. “If we don’t want to lose touch, we have to meet them where they are.”
The app is designed to send tips to law enforcement or school administration. It can also be used to notify students or the public, sending broadcast notifications, which can be scheduled for certain times to send out information, or pulse notifications, which can be immediate and alert people to incidents occurring in an area. The app works by using geofencing, which detects a device has entered into a specific area through the location feature on a cell phone and alerts can be sent.
Todd said the app can be used to report incidents such as possession of weapons, drugs or alcohol, harassment or intimidation, school vandalism, threats of violence and other incidents. Users can attach a video or photo to tips. Angell said the app can be set up to monitor tips for keywords that would be flagged, such as “gun” or “weapon,” and would repeat alerts to law enforcement or school administration until action had been reported.
The app will be available countywide, with not only Scottsbluff Public Schools participating. Scottsbluff Police, Gering Police, Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Department, WNCC, Gering Public Schools, St. Agnes School, Community Christian School, Mitchell Public Schools, Morrill Public Schools and Minatare Public Schools will be using the application.
“The biggest perk, that I see, is it is one thing for the whole county,” Todd said. “Every law enforcement agency, along with every school district in the county, which includes some of our smaller schools ... will be involved in this, so it gives one platform that they can report to and their law enforcement agency or school district.”
School officials talked about incidents in which the features may be useful. For example, if an incident were to occur on campus, students who were off campus could be notified not to return to campus but to another location. Police or school officials could also send out alerts seeking information on incidents, such as vandalisms.
The app does not take up a lot of memory, have in app advertising and does not collect information, except for a name, email address and password used to create an account to submit a tip.
“Anonymous is truly anonymous,” Angell said. “The agency that is using it will not know who that person is and we do not grab their location, except for a cache of information to say where it is going. We don’t track the app and we don’t track the phone.”
However, through a messaging system, law enforcement or school officials would be able to continue to gather additional follow up on a tip. To further ensure privacy, the app does not utilize third party social media apps to create log-ins, in order to protect information, but alerts can be shared on social media to assist law enforcement or school officials with notification.
The system also has a web-based platform, available on the Scottsbluff school district’s website, and soon to be available on other districts' websites as they launch.
For Scottsbluff Public Schools, the app replaces the previous reporting system, the TIPS Hotline. Scottsbluff Public Schools Communications Director Melissa Price said the district had observed that usage of the hotline had primarily been online, not through a phone number set up. The hotline system had been in place for about eight years.
“The ability to add the mobile piece and to offer the two-way communication was the big reason we decided to make the move,” she said.
Scottsbluff Superintendent Rick Myles said it was also frustrating under the previous system to not be able to continue communication once receiving an anonymous tip, either to gather additional information or to communicate follow up on a tip.
“This will allow convenient connection with that person, while guaranteeing their anonymity,” he said.
The app is used in 22 states and 500 agencies across the country. It has already been in use in Nebraska in the South Central Planning, Exercise and Training (PET) region, with Kearney schools and others, including the University of Nebraska at Kearney, using the system. With other agencies throughout the nation using the app, because of the geofencing, people can use it to make tips or receive notifications throughout the country.
The cost of the app for users is free.
“It’s out there for everyone to use,” Todd said.
For the school district, the cost of establishing and using the app each year is low, at $600 for unlimited users, a significant decrease in cost compared to its previous system. Angell said he was so committed to establishing the app that he took his retirement savings to build the app and offer it.
Students will learn about the app via marketing materials that will be distributed in the district and the community.
The district won’t go live on the system until Aug. 15. For more information about the app, visit the Scottsbluff Public Schools website, www.sbps.net, where QR codes are available for easy downloading of the app.
Tips can also be submitted online at that website.