Metro Atlanta schools use panic buttons for behavior, medical problems

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Data from 3 districts shows usage as legislation would widen push for such systems

Georgia lawmakers could pass a bill this week that would require all school districts to employ crisis alert systems by 2024.

About 60% of schools statewide — including those in at least seven metro Atlanta districts — already have contracts with Centegix, a company which equips employees with badges that can quickly alert school officials or first responders about emergencies with a few clicks of a button.

One metro Atlanta district refused to share details about how employees are using the multimillion-dollar equipment so far. Another said the documentation doesn’t exist. For the districts that did provide the information, campus threats or suspicious behavior accounted for the smallest portion of alerts — less than 2% issued in Cherokee and Fayette this school year, and less than 4% of those in Henry, according to the data obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Heather Tolley-Bauer, a parent and a member of community watchdog group Watching The Funds-Cobb, worried the legislation would impose another unfunded mandate for school systems this year when budgets are likely to be tight.

“As a parent, am I glad that we have a system like that in schools? I am, I absolutely am,” she said. “As a taxpayer, do I want to make sure everyone is getting a good value for their dollar? Absolutely, yes.”

Alyssa’s Law, which refers to “mobile panic alert systems,” passed in a 42-10 vote in the Senate earlier this month. A House of Representatives committee reviewed the bill two weeks ago.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Centegix in schools

School districts in Clayton, Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Fayette, Fulton and Henry counties contract with Centegix. Gwinnett County is piloting the system in two of its schools.

The AJC submitted open records requests to the Clayton, Cherokee, Cobb, Fayette and Henry districts for documentation of all the instances a Centegix alert was issued this school year. Cherokee, Fayette and Henry provided the requested documentation. Clayton County said the documentation does not exist. Cobb County said it was exempt from providing security-related information. The system is not fully operational yet in DeKalb and Fulton schools.

Centegix, an Atlanta-based company founded by Daniel Dooley, also declined to provide district-specific information about how its system is used. But it provided general data collected in fall 2022 from all school systems nationwide that use its technology, which largely reflects the information provided by the Cherokee, Fayette and Henry districts.

The vast majority of the approximately 50,000 alerts issued nationwide — upward of 98% — only went to school personnel. Most were related to student behavior or medical emergencies, the company reported.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

“When we talk now about the platform, we call the campuswide emergency program more of an insurance policy,” said Centegix CEO Brent Cobb. “It’s not going to be used very often — but when you need it, it’s by far in the industry the best solution.”

Inadvertent presses of the badges accounted for roughly 10% of the alerts in Cherokee, Fayette and Henry counties. The company’s report does not include information about accidental alerts.

In Cobb County, parents have reported more than a dozen instances since August of alerts being issued at schools where no threat was present. In October, district officials reported “human error” causing a lockdown at 11 schools. The state’s second-largest district previously used a system called AlertPoint, but switched to Centegix after officials said the system was the victim of a cyberattack that triggered a lockdown at every school when no threat was present.

Centegix now encourages districts to retrain staff with the badges roughly every six months, Brent Cobb said.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

The expansion of crisis alert

The bill’s main sponsor, state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, said he was motivated to bring the bill to lawmakers by his school-aged children and his wife, who is a teacher.

“We are trying to bring all 180 school districts up to a standard of excellence,” he told the House Education Committee last week, adding that crisis alert should be just one tool in a district’s toolbox.

The bill does not specify a vendor, but would require state agencies to issue a competitive solicitation for appropriate vendors.

The bill does not allocate funding for the crisis alert systems, but Anavitarte suggested that districts can use $50,000 safety grants allocated by Gov. Brian Kemp for each school in the amended fiscal year 2023 budget. Centegix charges roughly $8,000 per school per year for its system, which includes the badges, other equipment and software.

Several states have already passed Alyssa’s Law, including Florida — where Centegix is a preferred vendor. More than one-third of Florida districts currently use Centegix, said Brent Cobb. By the summer, he said he expects that to increase to about half of districts.

Staff reporter Ty Tagami and data journalist Stephanie Lamm contributed to this article.

Centegix’s ties to the Gold Dome

The founder of Centegix has ties with Gov. Brian Kemp, who will receive Alyssa’s Law if it passes both legislative chambers, that go back decades.

Kemp and Daniel Dooley were childhood friends and college roommates. At his 2023 inauguration, Kemp wore a tie that belonged to Dooley’s father, Vince Dooley — the legendary head football coach and athletic director at the University of Georgia.

Since 2010, Daniel Dooley has donated $28,100 to Kemp’s various political campaigns, according to campaign finance records. The company that owns Centegix, 34Ed LLC, donated $18,100 to Kemp’s 2022 gubernatorial campaign.

Through a spokesman, Kemp declined to comment on the bill or his relationship with Dooley.

“Out of respect for the legislative process, the governor has not weighed in on this legislation,” spokesman Garrison Douglas said in an email.

Kemp has expressed interest in additional security measures for public schools. In the early part of his first term, he signed legislation that provided more than $69.4 million to enhance existing security measures and to start new programs. Last year, Kemp held a meeting with school leaders to discuss security, mental health and other concerns on public school campuses.

The AJC is not aware of Kemp and Dooley’s relationship influencing school districts to contract with Centegix. In a statement through the company’s spokeswoman, Dooley said districts in more than 30 states have used their product because it’s the “fastest and easiest way for staff to get help in any emergency.”

Centegix CEO Brent Cobb said lawmakers’ interest in Alyssa’s Law — named after Alyssa Alhadeff, a student who died in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — “has nothing to do with anyone other than the state assembly.”

“You pretty much name a state, and there’s Alyssa’s Law legislation there,” he said. “There’s just a lot of movement around the nation as it relates to that.”