(UVALDE, Texas) — When Texas state legislators delved into the circumstances that preceded the deadly mass shooting in Uvalde that took the lives of 19 students and two teachers last year, lawmakers highlighted failures of leadership, law enforcement training and communication capabilities.
But buried in their 77-page report on the shooting, committee members also took note of apparent issues surrounding the school district’s emergency alert system, called Raptor, which uses a cellphone app to disseminate lockdown information and nearby police activity. Poor Wi-Fi service and a staff desensitized to alerts by frequent notifications diminished the app’s effectiveness, the committee found.
“If the alert had reached more teachers sooner, it is likely that more could have been done to protect them and their students,” according to the committee’s investigative report, which was published in July 2022.
A year has now passed since the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School. New leadership is in place, police training protocols have been overhauled, and communications systems have been upgraded.
But the district’s contract with Raptor Technologies, the Houston-based developer of the emergency alert app used at Robb Elementary School, remains in place.
Gary Patterson, the school district’s interim superintendent, told ABC News that the school district would prefer to keep Raptor, but he said the app “hasn’t changed” — and if the district can’t “make this work” by the fall, he and the new school district police chief would consider other options.
“Could we go to another application and use that? Yes, I guess we could. But we’ve got an investment and training in it,” Patterson said of the Raptor system. “I don’t know that we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Both Patterson and Josh Gutierrez, the school district’s new police chief, emphasized that Raptor cannot be relied on completely for school security safety — but that it is an important tool to help detect threats and quickly alert school staff to lock down situations.
“It’s a piece for the tool belt,” Gutierrez said. “It’s not what we’re relying on … it’ll help alert, but at the same time, we’ve still got to rely on our man-made interactions, our communication skills.”
The legislative committee’s report found that during the Robb shooting, the alerts issued on the Raptor system did not sufficiently warn school staff members after the school’s principal triggered the system. The panel said that complications with the school’s Wi-Fi may have hindered teachers’ ability to receive an alert. The district has since prioritized strengthening the Wi-Fi on its campuses.
Lawmakers also found that an influx of notifications in recent months “diluted” the seriousness of the lockdown warning. Raptor was installed just months before the shooting, and in that time, staff members received more than 50 alerts — a frequency that “contributed to a diminished sense of vigilance about responding to security alerts,” the committee said.
Most of those alerts were in response to what the committee described as nearby “bailouts,” referring to incidents when undocumented immigrants flee their vehicles and attempt to outrun police.
At least one teacher, third- and-fourth-grade teacher Arnulfo Reyes, who was wounded in the attack, previously told ABC News he did not receive a message through the Raptor app.
Raptor Technologies declined to comment for this story when contacted by ABC News. But last year a representative from the tech firm pushed back against some of the legislative panel’s findings, telling ABC News at the time that the report “paints an ambiguous and potentially misleading picture” of Raptor’s role in the shooting.
New officials Patterson and Gutierrez cited several other improvements they’d like to see in the Raptor platform, including an upgrade to the app’s interface and an update to the “verbiage” in the app so it better aligns with the language used by law enforcement — for example using the term “lockdown” instead of “lockout.”
“It’s pretty easy — unless you’re highly trained in it — to hit the wrong button sometimes,” Patterson said. “So that’s why I’m saying that it’s not perfect. It’s a tool that we can improve in several ways.”
Raptor is part of a growing security industry that’s been buttressed by the drumbeat of mass shootings in schools and elsewhere.
School security technologies have become a fixture in many districts, with companies raking in more than $3 billion in 2021, up from $2.7 billion in 2017, according to a market analysis by technology research firm Omdia.
Critics, however, say the industry is profiting on the fears of yet another attack, and some have raised questions about how well many of the tech products work. One government-funded study from 2016 found “limited and conflicting evidence in the literature on the short- and long-term effectiveness of school safety technology.”
Patterson and Gutierrez repeatedly said that Raptor and other school safety technologies could not replace solid training and human-facing preventative measures, like engaging with students and practicing emergency lockdown scenarios with staff.
In Uvalde, members of the community remain frustrated with the lack of progress after lawmakers and law enforcement officials pledged to address a myriad of issues that contributed to the failed response to the shooting — including the district’s ongoing relationship with Raptor.
“To this day, they’re still utilizing the Raptor system,” Gladys Gonzales, whose daughter survived the shooting, told ABC News’ Mireya Villareal in an interview. “It’s not the ideal, but it’s still being used. So that in our eyes is not good.”
“You’re frustrated with that?” Villareal asked.
Yes. Yes, we are,” Gonzales said. “Many of us are.”
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