To better equip New Jersey schools to handle potential security emergencies such as an active shooter threat, school safety legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Ralph R. Caputo, Cleopatra Tucker, Annette Quijano, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Shavonda Sumter, Angela McKnight, Herb Conaway and Eric Houghtaling requiring public and elementary schools to install silent panic alarms is now law.
The bill was named after Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year old student and former Woodcliff Lake resident who was among the 17 people killed during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“Our children deserve the chance to learn in peace,” said Caputo (D-Essex), the Assembly sponsor of the bill (A-764). “It has taken six years to get to this day. I thank the leadership of the Assembly and Senate for posting the bill, as well as, the Governor for creating a pathway for the legislation to become law. Alyssa’s family and community have been steadfast champions of this bill and I commend them for that. Coupled with security measures already in place, this law can increase the chances of diffusing a bad situation without further harm to students and staff.”
“We have to utilize all sensible measures available to us to help our schools defend themselves against an attack,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “These systems help give students, parents and staff the peace of mind that in the case of an emergency, there is a direct link to local law enforcement.”
The new law (formerly bill A-764) requires all public elementary and secondary schools to have a panic alarm for use during a security emergency such as a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, or active shooter threat.
When activated, the alarm will remain silent in the building while alerting local law enforcement of the emergency via a signal or message. Schools in municipalities without a local police department would be linked to a location designated by the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
“A quick response from law enforcement to an emergency can make all the difference in the outcome,” said Quijano (D-Union). “We owe it to these children and the adults charged with their care to give them as much help as possible if they are ever confronted with a life and death situation.”
“In an emergency, every minute counts. It is particularly crucial when children are involved,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Too many schools have been targeted and too many innocent people have paid the price. Beefing up school security to better protect our children is a necessity.”
“Boosting security measures with a silent alarm that would notify law enforcement as soon as it is activated could help reduce the potential for greater harm in an emergency,” said Sumter (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Any measure that can help lessen this risk is a step worth taking.”
Under the new law, a panic alarm must adhere to nationally recognized industry standards, including the requirements of the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories. Alarms must be installed by a licensed individual in accordance with current law. School districts will also have the option to equip schools with an alternative emergency mechanism capable of performing similar duties as a panic alarm so long as it is approved by the Department of Education.
“There is no single, quick fix to eliminate the threat of violence in our schools. But there are steps we can take to better protect students and staff if they are ever faced with a dangerous situation. This is one of them,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “This is an investment worth making.”
“No student should ever feel unsafe when they walk into a school building. With this law, we provide a vital connection between students, faculty, and local police that will help them feel safer in the classroom,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “We can’t prevent every emergency, but we must prepare for them as best we can.”
“If one of our schools found themselves facing an emergency, we want them to have every tool available at their disposable to deescalate the situation,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “Making our schools a safe and secure place for children to learn and grow is our top priority.”
On concurrence with recommendations from Governor Phil Murphy, funding for the panic alarms will come from the voter-approved Secure Our Children’s Future Bond Act, under which funds will be authorized for security improvements to public and vocational schools and community colleges. A portion of anticipated proceeds of the bonds will be available for the purchase and installation of silent panic alarms.
Additionally, the School Development Authority (SDA) will establish a streamlined program to ensure systems are designed and installed efficiently.
The bill takes effect ten months after enactment.