Daniel James

Founded by four Yale undergraduates, a new startup app called PREPARED seeks to protect students and faculty members during potential episodes of gun violence in schools. Co-founded by Michael Chime ’21, Daniel James ’19, Neal Soni ’22 and Dylan Gleicher ’21, PREPARED was awarded the $25,000 Miller Prize at last week’s Startup Yale competition — a prize which goes to the best student-led venture with a tech service.

“We started the app because all of us founders have connections to or have witnessed extreme events in schools and because school shootings are really an epidemic in our country,” James explained.

According to Chime, he first came up with the idea for the app over the summer. Chime has both a 9-year-old brother and a brother in high school and felt concerned about his brothers’ safety in their respective schools. James, Gleicher and Soni also experienced gun violence or threats of gun violence while they were in school and shared Chime’s passion for the cause.

The app is available in three different user formats — one for administrators, one for teachers and one for students. Upon opening the app, the user sees a plain background with three distinct buttons. The simple interface, according to James, was Soni’s vision, as Soni wanted to make the app seamless and easy to use in moments of high stress.

The teacher interface shows three options — active shooter, medical and fire. To send an alert that there is a shooter on campus, the teacher must hold the active shooter button for three seconds, during which the phone vibrates to prevent any accidental clicks, according to Chime. The teacher would then be presented with a screen asking for more information. This location information is immediately sent to both school administrators and 911. Teachers also have the ability to designate the threat as low, medium or high priority.

Once an administrator has received a notification from a teacher, they have the ability to send an Amber Alert–style message and to place the school under lockdown. James explained that the message also would likely be disseminated to other schools in the area to protect other students.

“We got some really positive feedback,” Chime said. “The superintendent of the Sandy Hook school district said this app should be in every school in the country.”

The team studied the case of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in order to identify the functions their app needed to have. According to Chime, during the Parkland shooting, the school used their PA, or public address, system to alert students to the threat, which took three minutes and 30 seconds.

Chime noted, however, that the entirety of the shooting took five minutes. He explained that the shooter took advantage of the time in which students, teachers and administrators were trying to flee to kill as many individuals as possible. The PREPARED team’s app, on the other hand, takes as little as 15 seconds to disseminate an alert to teachers, administrators and 911.

The team plans to continue developing the app over the summer and hopes to get in contact with more school districts to spread the word about PREPARED. According to James, the app is already in the process of being implemented in 22 schools, including 18 in his own home district in Louisiana. The team hopes that students at Yale can connect with school districts across the country.

“We really want to take advantage of being on the Yale campus and of the students here, who more likely than not, have a great relationship with their community back home,” James said. “Our goal is essentially to get in contact with students here who would be interested in getting us in contact with their districts because we feel like that is the best way to get the app into the hands of districts across the country.”

In 2018, there were 94 school gun violence incidents — the highest recorded annual number in the U.S. — according to data from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

Madison Mahoney | madison.mahoney@yale.edu