(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Ralph R. Caputo, Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., Ruben J. Ramos, Jr., L. Grace Spencer, Cleopatra Tucker, Annette Quijano and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to require public elementary and secondary schools in New Jersey be equipped with a panic alarm and red emergency light for use in a school security emergencies was approved Monday by an Assembly committee.
"Time is of the essence when it comes to school security emergencies. Directly linking a panic alarm to local law enforcement authorities to enable them to respond quicker is common sense," said Caputo (D-Essex), who introduced the bill in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, CT. "It's commonplace technology and something that should be done to better protect our children."
The bill (A-3691) requires that all public elementary and secondary schools be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency including, but not limited to, a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, or active shooter situation. The alarm would be an addition to existing security systems.
"Just last month a school shooting in Nevada left a teacher dead and two young students wounded," said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). "We must do everything we can to protect our kids and our teachers. This is one incremental remedy but it can be put in place economically and quickly. There is no excuse for delay."
"Police response time is crucial during an emergency," said Ramos (D-Hudson). "When activated, the panic alarm would send an alert directly to local authorities, providing a quicker response and giving students and staff members a better chance of escaping a threat unharmed."
"The last thing you want to do in an emergency is make an already chaotic situation worse. The alarm and red light would quietly signal law enforcement to an emergency at the school, without tipping off an intruder and increasing the risk to students and staff members," said Spencer (D-Essex).
"It's a sad reality, but we must equip our schools against the potential threat of an armed intruder," said Tucker (D-Essex). "These emergency 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."
"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 have help arrive as soon 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."
The bill defines a panic alarm as a silent security system signal that can be manually activated to signal a life-threatening or emergency situation that requires a response from law enforcement.
The alarm, which would not be audible within the school building, must be directly linked to local law enforcement and immediately transmit a signal or message to the authorities upon activation. In the case of a school building located in a municipality where there is no police department, the panic alarm would be linked to a location designated by the Superintendent of State Police.
The bill also requires that a red emergency light be affixed to the exterior of all public elementary and secondary school buildings in a highly visible location above or near the front entrance visible from the nearest public roadway. In the case of a school building that is not clearly visible from the nearest public roadway; the emergency light would be located on that public roadway. The light would be linked to the school's panic alarm so that it turns on when the alarm is activated.
Under the bill, the full cost of these systems shall be funded by the proceeds of bonds authorized to be issued to fund the state share of the costs of Schools Development Authority district school facilities projects, or the state share of the costs of school facilities projects in all other districts.
The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.