AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas House gave initial approval Monday to a bill that would change technology requirements for how public school campuses initiate lockdowns and alert authorities in the case of emergencies.

The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Shawn Thierry, (D-Houston), would require Texas schools to have alert devices with technology that immediately notify EMS, law enforcement and other first responders in the case of an emergency.

Her legislation is modeled after Florida’s “Alyssa’s Law,” which was named after one of the victims of the Parkland high school shooting in Florida, which left 17 people dead. The goal of the law is to address lagged law enforcement response due to slowed, secondary communication between teachers and administrators and 911 operators and first responders. Florida, New York and New Jersey have adopted these laws.

“With this technology students, teachers, faculty will no longer be put on hold and have to make multiple phone calls in the event of an emergency — particularly we’ve seen with the school shootings — so absolutely seconds saves lives,” Thierry told Nexstar.

What’s different about these types of panic alert technologies?

Thierry told Nexstar one of the key differences about the technology Texas could soon require for schools is the technology creates a live, two-way communication system between districts and first responders.

“This technology, no matter where the kids are located — even if a teacher is on the football field and something happens — you can provide the location and within seconds, notify that there is an active threat,” she said. “You can actually notify them in the event of a medical emergency, so it’s helpful all the way around.”

When presenting the bill, the Houston Democrat noted that legislators and many state agencies already had this type of technology for their own protection.

“It is a sad truth that our schools are the least secure government building, yet they hold our most vulnerable population,” Thierry said. “Our hearing rooms have panic buttons and many of our state offices, shouldn’t we give children the same protection?”

Theirry’s legislation doesn’t require school districts to adopt a certain brand or company-make of panic alert systems.

Funding and requirements for panic alert systems

Thierry said districts will be able to use dollars that come from the $800 million of new funding lawmakers are allocating under the school safety allotment for the next biennium, or two-year fiscal period, for 2024-2025.

“Our school safety allotment exists every year and so we’ve made sure that the silent panic alert technology fits within the specifications of the school safety allotment,” Thierry said. “This biennium, over $1 billion has been implemented for school safety.”

Additionally, the Texas Education Agency has a grant program through 2024 for districts to purchase silent panic alert systems. In order to meet the criteria defined by the TEA and Texas School Safety Center, the systems must be capable of the following features:

  1. an alert capable of being triggered manually by campus staff;   
  2. an alert is triggered automatically in the event a district employee calls 911 from any location within the school system;  
  3. with any alert generated, the location of where the alert originated shall be included;  
  4. the alert notifies a set of designated school administrators as needed to provide confirmation of response, and if confirmed, notice is issued to law enforcement and emergency responder agencies of an emergency situation requiring a law enforcement and/or emergency response, and a notice can simultaneously be issued to all school staff of the need to follow appropriate emergency procedures; and  
  5. for any exterior doors that features electronic locking mechanisms that allow for remote locking, the alert system will trigger those doors to automatically lock and to automatically notify relevant campus staff of any door where the lock cannot engage. 

The House unanimously voted on the identical Senate companion bill — carried by Sen. Brandon Creighton, (R-Conroe) — who chairs the Education Committee. The legislation needs one final approval in its third reading, which is scheduled Tuesday, before heading to the governor’s desk for a signature. Thierry said she expects Gov. Greg Abbott to sign it.