School safety app swamped by spam

School safety app swamped by spam
An app designed to improved school safety may not be working as well as expected. (Source: wwsb)

(NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA) - An online “suspicious activity reporting tool” set up by the state to bolster school safety has been inundated with false or “spam” reports, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission wants to take a closer look.

The Fortify Florida app, also called FortifyFL, was created by the state in 2018, as part of a response to the Parkland school shooting in which 17 students and staff members were killed.

Meeting for the first time this year on Wednesday, the commission was presented with data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on the types of tips coming to the app, as well as the number of tips that are “actionable.”

Florida school districts, including Sarasota and Manatee counties, are required by law to make the app available. Fortify Florida has received just shy of 12,000 tips since its launch more than two years ago, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and submissions to the app are coming in at an increased rate.

For example, 437 anonymous tips were reported through Fortify Florida in the month of January 2021. But commission member Max Schachter raised concerns about the validity of the bulk of tips received by the app. Schachter, whose son Alex was among the 14 students slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, pointed to a recent survey of seven school districts that use Fortify Florida as well as other reporting platforms that aren’t run by the state.

The survey showed that 62 percent of tips coming into the Fortify Florida app were spam, and only 27 percent were actionable. “If it is not effective, we need to remedy that situation, because our school safety directors that are receiving these tips are being inundated with this information. They have a lot on their plate, and I want to make sure they are not wasting their time,” Schachter said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Annie White, who presented information on the Fortify Florida app to the commission on Wednesday, said the app has seen “abuse of the system” because state law requires reporting to remain anonymous.

“Fortify Florida was established to provide a baseline reporting capability, as most districts across the state don’t have the monies to procure some of those larger apps,” White said. Schacter proposed extending the survey to all school districts to get a “full picture” of the statewide app’s effectiveness.

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