Editor’s Note: KXAN updated this story to note a parent quoted in this story also works for Centegix, a company that makes a panic-alert system.
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As Texas lawmakers prepare to tackle school safety-related bills in the aftermath of the Uvalde mass school shooting, the mother of a Parkland school shooting victim hopes legislators in all states will remember her daughter’s name in a push for silent panic alert systems in schools.
Lori Alhadeff lost her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa Alhadeff, who was killed during 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since then, she has been the catalyst for three states to pass Alyssa’s Law — named in memory of her daughter.
Florida, New Jersey and New York all have laws that require school districts to have panic alert technology throughout their buildings. The systems are designed to immediately notify EMS, law enforcement, and other first responders in the case of an emergency with the push of a button.
Alhadeff was in Austin Monday, advocating for Alyssa’s law in the Lone Star State at a conference for the Texas Association of School Administrators.
“I’m Alyssa’s voice,” she said. “I know that in order for me to make a difference, make an impact… I need to be here, going around the country, having a voice to see all this as law… pass[ing] a standard level school safety protection.”
Alhadeff said Alyssa likely would have survived if first responders could have gotten to her quicker, but help did not come soon enough that day.
“If you know there’s a medical emergency or an active shooter situation, there can be mass notification within seconds so that law enforcement can get on the scene as quickly as possible,” she said.
Texas parents like Will Fullerton, a former Texas Education Agency staffer, agree that schools need to have a renewed focus on safety. Fullerton also lobbies for a company, Centegix, which has a panic alert device.
“There’s multiple levels of school safety we’ve paid attention to in the last decade,” he said. “The piece that’s really received the least attention is that response. In emergencies and crisises, seconds matter. Every second matters.”
For a second session in a row, Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, is introducing the ‘panic button bill’ — legislation that would require Texas schools to have some type of alert device systems in all districts.
Most school districts have alert app systems on their cell phones to use in an active shooter situation. However, Thierry said this can be troublesome as apps rely on a WiFi connection, and frequently, many teachers don’t even download it on their personal phones.
The special Texas House investigation committee that analyzed failures in the Robb Elementary School shooting, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, did cite how staff used or ignored the alerts among the communication failures.
During the 2021 legislative session, Thierry’s bill passed across party lines in the House but died in the Senate. This year, she is working with Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and feels more confident about its passage, especially given both Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have mentioned school safety amongst their top priorities.
“It breaks my heart to know that we couldn’t have prevented the next school shooting and it’s so painful…obviously, I know that,” Alhadeff said. “Knowing that I can make a difference — I can make an impact and my voice is my power.”