WARWICK, R.I. – Sitting in front of a large screen at the school administration building off Warwick Avenue, city and school officials watched in real time a scene in which police officers took down a man brandishing a rifle at the Oakland Beach Elementary School, miles away.
The exercise Thursday night was a drill to demonstrate the school department's newly acquired Mutualink system.
The communication platform allows firefighters, officers and rescue workers to communicate in real time as they respond to emergencies, and monitor what is happening through cameras installed in the city's public schools.
"Surreal," said City Council President Joseph J. Solomon after the drill ended. "It's a necessary tool."
All staff members in the city's schools can now download the Panic Button from Rave Mobile Safety on their phones. When they open it, they can press one of five buttons: "active shooter", "fire", "medical", "police" or "911 other".
Once a staff member pushes a button, other staff members in the school receive a text message, alerting them of the emergency.
Then, staff members, police officers, firefighters can all communicate together on the platform available on computers, tablets and phones. They can also all access the cameras.
The system will only work when staff members are on school grounds, Schools Supt. Philip Thornton said.
In the past, "if the school dialed 911, it went to dispatch," said School Department Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci. Then, dispatch had to contact officers and firefighters separately, and communicate back to the school staff who had first called.
The new system cuts down response time said Jeff Kelly, a national field trainer for Mutualink.
Fire Chief James McLaughlin, who was at the presentation, said the district's schools are big.
Being able to access cameras allows rescue workers to head directly to the back doors of a school if they already know that someone in distress is there for example, rather than entering through the front doors and walking through the school, wasting valuable time.
Ferrucci said the School Committee approved $378,255 in 2016 to install Mutualink. An additional $39,738 is paid annually to support the system, he said.
The Warwick School District is the first in Rhode Island to use the platform, said the company's president, Colin McWay. The Warwick police and fire departments as well as the Warwick Mall and Kent Hospital already use the system.
In Massachusetts, Dartmouth schools and one school in the Old Rochester Regional School district use the platform, according to Marketing Director Beth Clay at Mutualink.
Providence Journal video by Kris Craig