Georgia social workers get unique safety app

December 3, 2018

ATLANTA – A specially designed phone app will give Georgia social workers a feeling of greater security when their job takes them to dangerous neighborhoods, state officials announced Monday.

The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) distributed “panic buttons” for the Click Safe app to child-welfare investigators and case managers in a phased rollout of the new security system that went live Monday.

“These professionals must go wherever necessary to safeguard children. They can’t choose the places or situations they enter,” said Tom Rawlings, interim DFCS director. “The Click Safe app is a way to protect them when they’re protecting Georgia’s children.”

When pressed, the button on a key fob transmits a signal via Bluetooth to an app on the worker’s state-issued cellphone. The phone then silently notifies the agency’s call center where a trained operator contacts the nearest 911 center with details on the alarm, a description of the employee, the location, and a request to rush law enforcement officers to the scene.

Engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute developed the system at the request of Gov. Nathan Deal as part of his child-welfare initiatives. The scientists adapted off-the-shelf technology to stand up to rigorous field testing to ensure reliable functionality across the state.

“Georgia Tech is proud to be part of this innovative collaboration between the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the state of Georgia, and the Department of Family and Children Services,” said Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson. “We expect the Click Safe emergency-response system to become a powerful tool in helping protect DFCS case managers and child-welfare investigators in sometimes-dangerous situations as they focus on their vital work of ensuring the safety of Georgia’s children.”

The phone app is installed on all phones issued to employees of the Department of Human Services but will only operate when used with the panic button key fob. Buttons were distributed along with training last month to Child Protective Service workers in Region 4 for the first phase of the rollout. Monitoring began Monday.

To prevent accidental triggering of the device, the button must be pressed either for five seconds or five times in succession.

The system operates silently and out of sight. That’s to keep from alerting anyone threatening a case worker that law enforcement is on the way and potentially making a tense situation more dangerous in the minutes before officers arrive.

“Our child-safety professionals are trained to de-escalate unpleasant situations, but having a panic button gives them assurance that help will be there if their verbal techniques aren’t successful,” Rawlings said.

Development of Click Safe represents cooperation between two state entities to create a unique field-safety device. Deal sought to draw on the specialized telecommunications expertise at GTRI to provide peace of mind to a group of state employees often called to be in risky locations confronting unpredictable individuals.

As social workers, child-welfare workers are not armed, do not have badges, and have no arrest powers. They call on local police agencies for support when they know they are going to a risky situation, but Click Safe is designed to protect them in cases where a seemingly peaceful assignment turns dangerous.

An added benefit of the system’s design is that additional functions can be installed in updates that will allow it to integrate with the state’s child-welfare database system to document employees’ case notes.

Plans also call for panic buttons to be issued to case managers with field responsibilities in other divisions of the Department of Human Services, such as Adult Protective Services.

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