ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Two days from back to school for Central Florida’s largest school district, leaders of Orange County Public Schools and the Orange County Sheriff's Office revealed a new emergency alert system called SaferWatch.
The application is like a silent alarm in a bank, connecting the school to the 911 dispatch center at the touch of a button.
What You Need To Know
- Orange County reveals new emergency alert system for schools
- With an app on employees' devices, schools can connect to the 911 dispatch center
- The disclosure comes two days ahead of the start of the 2022-23 school year
- District leaders are still working to fill open teaching positions and are adjusting bus schedules
Employees can access the application through their digital devices — laptop, tablet or phone. The app allows any employee to be able to initiate a lockdown and alert dispatchers of what’s going on.
"It goes into what they call a command portal, and it makes a very loud noise. You can’t miss it,” District Police Chief Bryan Holmes said. “The dispatchers will be brought to their attention, and they’ll be able to respond very quickly to anything that might be happening in our school.”
The device adds to the 196 school resource deputies, corporals and sergeants committed to safety in schools, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said. Deputies and resource officers have access to more than 6,000 OCPS cameras, he added.
All school resource officers are trained in crisis intervention and single-deputy response, Mina said.
“They’re not waiting for backup…,” Mina said. “They’re trained to go in immediately and save lives.”
In addition, more than 400 school administrators have been trained in emergency preparedness. However, specific details and strategies remain confidential, district officials said.
Other concerns heading into the school year are the teacher and bus driver shortages.
OCPS is the nation’s ninth-largest. Its projected enrollment for 2021-22 was 209,063, with an estimated increase of 2,879. It had 24,080 employees, including 13,772 teachers.
The district said it has been aggressively recruiting teachers throughout the summer.
During the first few weeks of school, school-based administrators have plans to place classroom resource personnel into classrooms where they have yet to hire teachers. About 100 resource personnel and administrators will help cover the classrooms, district officials said.
To address driver issues, high schools will have a staggered bus schedule, with two runs for pickup and drop-off, to accommodate the shortage.
Leaders said they will make adjustments to routes during the first few weeks of school, like always. But bell times will remain the same.
They are encouraging any families who can drive their children to school to do so.