Tips to Safe UT app foil school attacks

Feb 22, 2018, 3:29 PM | Updated: 10:48 pm

SANDY – Following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. last week, KSL is focused on ways we can all protect Utah kids. Student safety and school safety are top priorities, and the Safe UT app has been successful in saving the lives of students in crisis and helping stop planned violent attacks on Utah schools.

“We know that kids pretty much live on their phones, and they’re not likely to call a hotline,” said Jeff Haney, a Canyons School District Spokesman, “But, they are likely to text in information.”

That’s why KSL thinks the Safe UT app should be downloaded on the phone of every student, parent and teacher in this state. Students can call the crisis line 24/7. They can chat with a counselor if they’re struggling with thoughts of hurting themselves or others.  If they see something suspicious or dangerous, they can report it anonymously to school leaders around the clock.

Four weeks ago, Margaret Dau’s phone lit up all night long. The Jordan High School principal and several critical district personnel were getting Safe UT alerts about a violent threat made against the school.

“I received a couple of Safe UT tips,” said Dau. “They had the exact verbiage (of the threat) that had been posted on social media.”

“Saying, ‘Hey, I just read on Snapchat that this is going to happen. Are we going to be OK?'” said Haney.

A student had spotted the threat online.

“There was a student that was going to come and shoot up and or bomb the school on Friday during our assembly,” said Dau.

Students and parents used the Safe UT app to raise a red flag.

“I think they did it because they had no idea how else to contact me,” said Dau. “It’s 10:30 at night. These tips were coming all through the night.”

As rumors of the attack spread, kids were nervous about going to school in morning. Using the Safe UT app, in the middle of the night, Dau alerted the school community that the threats were unfounded.

“So, I just literally, in those responses said, ‘This is the principal: this is Mrs. Dau. I am very aware of the situation. We are taking care of everything. I have the police involved. We will make sure that every student is safe when you come to school tomorrow.’”

Had an actual school shooting been in the works, Dau believes the app would have served its purpose just as well.

“Immediately, my first response was contact district personnel, contact police and then we started to process very quickly if there was anything founded in truth.”

When Tori Yeates and others with University of Utah Crisis Services put the app together, their aim was to give students a tool to help each other in crisis. They did not foresee students would use it to warn administrators about potential attacks.

“If we can avoid a disastrous event at any school in our state, that’s a victory for all of us,” said Yeates, a supervisor with University of Utah Crisis Services.

In the two years since the launch of the app, Yeates said, students and others have used the Safe UT app to foil 86 planned attacks on Utah schools. The majority of those incidents involved weapons brought to school.

Recently, Yeates said, students tipped off the Safe UT app about a classmate planning an attack.

“They were looking at potentially blowing up the school,” she said, unable to name the school and student for privacy reasons. School leaders acted quickly with police.

“We were able to go in and find various stages of bomb-making equipment in that student’s home,” she said.

The other students feared the threat was credible, and did the right thing.

“They had enough courage to speak up,” Yeates said.

They used the Safe UT app to alert school administrators who took charge of the situation.

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Tips to Safe UT app foil school attacks