More Than 20 Illinois Schools Install Blue Emergency Boxes That Notify Police of an Active Shooter
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — September 18, 2019
This year alone, at least 60 incidents of gunfire have taken place on U.S. school grounds, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit working to reduce U.S. gun violence. Not every incident results in injury or death, the organization notes, but these shootings can have a profound effect on children and teenagers.
"The effects of gun violence extend far beyond those struck by a bullet: gun violence shapes the lives of the millions of children who witness it, know someone who was shot, or lives in fear of the next shooting," the group’s website says.
State authorities have allocated $90,000 for the devices.
The more than 700 students enrolled at St. Ben’s this year were greeted by 30 new bright blue pull boxes on the walls, fixtures installed because of concern about the possibility of a deadly school shooting. The school also spent $40,000 on new security cameras.
More than 20 schools in Illinois, including St. Ben’s, now have these BluePoint systems installed. Many are in the Chicago suburbs. Only four schools in the city have the alert system; none are public schools. Across the country, more than 150 schools have BluePoint alert systems in place, a spokeswoman for the Elgin-based company said.
School leadership and parents weren’t the only ones worried about possible violence, said Rachel Gemo, head of school at St. Ben’s. Students were too.
"They really, sadly, are aware of this possibility," said Gemo, who has led the school for 15 years. "They are not immune to what they hear on TV."
That is why St. Ben’s trained its students to use the pull stations, located throughout what Gemo calls its 'Frankenstein-style' campus, which has seven two- or three-story buildings attached to one another. The church is outfitted with pull boxes of its own.
Users activate the system by removing a pull station’s clear plastic cover, then pushing its lever in and then down. That sequence triggers a complex alert system, sending a signal to BluePoint and to police. Some school staffers also can activate the alert system using special fobs they wear around their necks, similar to car keys.
"I feel a lot safer than I used to," fifth-grader Henry Klucznik said. The closest box to him during the school day is right down the hall — "two to three seconds" away if he’s running.
It's a worrying sign of the times that the school even needed to install the alarm system, said his mother, Molly Klucznik. But it's comforting to know it’s there.
"It’s sad that we do have to think about this," said Klucznik, who also has two other children at the school. “When I was growing up we had tornado drills.
"With all these examples across the country, you hope and pray it doesn’t happen to you and your school," she added. "I really hope we never have to use (the alarm system), but it’s nice to be prepared."