Local students create emergency app

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The app is currently available for Android, but is expected to be released to Apple’s App Store sometime the following week. EJ Photo/Travis Charlson.

St. Ansgar, Osage and Riceville kids team up to prevent violence, school shootings.

On the afternoon of February 14, 2018, news reports came flooding in of an active shooter at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Disgusted and frustrated, once again the nation watched helplessly as law enforcement scrambled to the scene of the latest, seemingly inevitable school shooting.

Mitchell County is over 1,500 miles away from Parkland. But when the distraught and confused victims step in front of the cameras, we don’t see strangers. We see ourselves, our school, our friends and family, because in the back of our minds we realize we’re just like they are, and they never thought it would happen to them. 

“We always hear: ‘We knew he or she was going to do that’. That’s all after the fact. They don’t pick up 911 and call.”

– Sheriff Greg Beaver

And as the reports trickled in, the story of the tragedy began to fall right in line with all of the tragedies before it… The signs were there. They weren’t getting the help they needed. No one spoke up.

“We’ve got to get a way for these kids to report [this],” Mitchell County Sheriff Greg Beaver began to think that February day.

Students needed an anonymous way to speak up, and after a few public safety meetings, Beaver thought that a smartphone app alert-system might be just the thing.

“So I took the [app] idea to the students and said ‘What do you think?’,” Beaver said. “They thought it was great, so I said ‘You guys own it, you run with it, let’s see what you can come up with’.”

Eight months later, Mitchell County’s own students are rolling out “Mitchell County Iowa Threat Report”, a smartphone app that provides a quick and easy way to report a possible threat to the Mitchell County area.

Students and Mitchell County residents can activate a threat report by simply opening the app and tapping a few buttons.

When a report comes in, all of the law enforcement officers at the sheriff’s office and at the local police departments will be notified immediately via email, and so will members of the school administrations.

“There’s probably 20 people between the Osage school, law enforcement and the St. Ansgar school that will receive that report immediately.” Beaver said.

Even though the reports it generates are anonymous, authorities can still identify who sent a certain report through the IP address if they feel someone is pranking or abusing the service.

“This app is all about collaboration between the school districts and the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office,” said St. Ansgar senior Christian Eckard.

“Students and the school districts may not be comfortable calling 911 except if it’s an emergency, and this app is a solution for that.”

– Christian Eckard

The app is not intended to be a substitute for 911 calls, however..

“The kids have a safe place and an easy place, that if they hear something that they don’t feel comfortable with, they get that information over to the authorities and to ourselves,” said Osage Superintendent Barb Schwamman.

A group of St. Ansgar, Osage and Riceville students worked together to build the app, with a few teachers providing tutoring and advice along the way.

“We’ve  never put out an app, so it was something new — a lot of trial and error.” said St. Ansgar senior Sophie Merten. “I think it’s kind of fun to see these rivalry schools all together, to support this one big thing. I really enjoyed it.”

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