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'Success is saving one life': Panic button law named after Parkland victim is adopted in NY

Photo of Alyssa Alhadeff stading infront of a brick background
Courtesy of Lori Alhadeff
Alyssa Alhadeff was 14 years old when she was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Since her death, her family has been advocating for improving school safety in Florida and across the country.

Schools in multiple states are installing panic button systems that allow students and teachers to silently alert law enforcement about an emergency. That’s thanks to family members of a student who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

In late June, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed Alyssa’s Law — named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, who was 14 years old when she was murdered in Parkland.

“It's not a mandate, but I stand by here today and ask all school districts to adopt this,” Hochul said at a bill signing event. “Please, please consider this technology to protect your students and your staff and your administrators. It will save lives.”

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Alyssa’s Law has already been passed in Florida and New Jersey. Bills have also been introduced in Arizona, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia, as well as in the U.S. Congress, according to Make Our Schools Safe, a nonprofit founded by the Alhadeff family.

WLRN education reporter Kate Payne spoke with Lori Alhadeff — Alyssa’s mom and a member of the Broward County School Board — about what it’s like to see more states adopt this law.

The following is an excerpt of their conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

ALHADEFF: Of course I would love to have my beautiful daughter Alyssa here with me. But I’ve turned my pain and grief into action. It means so much to me and my family. Every time Alyssa’s Alert is pushed and a life is saved, Alyssa was part of that.

WLRN: The New York law encourages districts to look into these panic button systems, but it doesn’t require them to adopt them, like the laws in Florida and New Jersey do. Are you satisfied with that voluntary approach?

ALHADEFF: I would have loved for it to be mandatory. But I think it's a step in the right direction. It's something that school districts will now look more seriously at to implement as one of their layers of school safety protection in their schools.

WLRN: Florida’s version of Alyssa’s Law, like we said, mandates that all public schools have these mobile panic button systems — whether that’s on a computer or cell phone app or physical buttons. That went into effect this past school year. How has it been going?

ALHADEFF: It’s been going great. Our school board has asked our staff to put the Alyssa Alert, the panic button, on every teacher's computer so that they at least have it there. So some school districts rolled it out as an app and some rolled it out as a … like a badge a teacher wears around their neck.

And for me, honestly, success is saving one life. If that happens, because we were able to get EMS to a medical emergency faster, because of the push of the button, then it's all worth it. And hopefully it never would have to be used in an active shooter situation. But we know that seconds really matter when someone is bleeding. If that button is pushed, and law enforcement knows exactly where the threat is coming from, lives will be saved.

WLRN: We know there were a series of critical failures in law enforcement communication during the Parkland shooting. Some officers’ radios simply weren’t working. Other officers didn’t bring their radios at all. With the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, we saw similar issues of officers not having their radios and just a breakdown in basic communication. What lessons do communities across the country still need to learn from Parkland?

ALHADEFF: It breaks my heart and upsets me so much to know that these mistakes were repeated. Like, wake up people! You can't be living under a rock. If you're responsible for children in school, you need to make sure that you are protecting them. That you are implementing these best school safety practices within your school. And that they're followed with fidelity.

And make sure that everyone is trained. Training, training, training. I can't repeat it enough ... Alyssa’s Alert will do its job but then it's law enforcement's job — the next step. To go in, engage and take down the threat. And if you are not willing to do that, then this is not the profession for you.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter