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Amid security concerns, former police officer presents emergency app to House committee

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, lawmakers have concerns about their ability to respond to a potential emergency within the Missouri statehouse

A solution, according to a former police officer, could be a panic button app. 

“If such an event took place at the Missouri Capitol, we do not currently have the means to alert everyone that works in this building,” Rep. Ron Hicks, chair of the Special Committee on Homeland Security, said.

Developed in 2013 by Nate McVicker, a 23-year veteran police officer and parent of three, Guard911 is an app that would allow legislators and staff to press a button indicating there is an armed intruder in the building or area, which would then alert nearby law enforcement more quickly to the situation. McVicker gave a presentation on the app to the special committee Wednesday.

“We’ve developed a technology service to expedite notifications in true dire emergencies,” McVicker told The Missouri Times.

Guard911 aims to get the first officers on the scene faster than would normally happen through the traditional dispatch system. On- and off-duty police personnel in the area are notified during an emergency through a companion app called Hero911. This would give them a layout of the area via the geofences, granting them situational awareness, and allowing a faster response from a small group of officers ahead of the traditional dispatch system. 

Hero911, the companion app, is used by more than 60,000 law enforcement officers in the U.S.

The Missouri statehouse would be the first state Capitol to implement Guard911, but schools, courthouses, and other public buildings across 32 states, along with Puerto Rico and Guam, use the app — including roughly 30 K-12 schools in Missouri, as well as a few courthouses, McVicker said.

Some on the committee brought forth technological concerns about the app’s viability in the building.

“Is there something that would be put in the Capitol to make sure this actually works? Is there a way to kind of boost the signal,” Rep. Bridget Walsh Moore said, noting decent cell service and WiFi can be hard to come by at times in the building.

In response, McVicker said that Guard911 and Hero911 are both operating within the FirstNet catalog, the interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety communications. This means communication from the Guard911 and Hero911 apps take priority for telecommunications platforms in those situations.

“We’ve got to get you notified as quick as possible, and we’ve got to get our police notified as quick as possible,” McVicker said.

Hicks, the chair of the committee, needs approval from the speaker of the House for Guard911 to begin a six month free trial in the building. After the free trial, the app would cost $99 per month to maintain the service. 

McVicker spoke to the committee during an informational hearing, with no legislation connected to the presentation.

Cameron Gerber contributed to this story.