When a student brought a stolen pistol to a Madison, Ala., school in 2010 and fatally shot another student in the hallway, panic spread quickly through the small community near Huntsville.

“Immediately, everybody in the community wanted to add metal detectors. They wanted to arm teachers. They wanted to harden school locations. I think we call that knee-jerk reactions,” Madison Police Department (MPD) Chief Larry Muncey said during a session at the recent International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Law Enforcement Information Management (LEIM) conference in Atlanta.

MPD worked with the faith-based community to help allay those fears and came back with a comprehensive strategy that included hiring more school resource officers (SROs) and improving building security. But Muncey knew this wouldn’t be enough.

“Nothing we had done—nothing—would prevent another shooting,” Muncey said. “It became blatantly clear that the only way to stop a school shooting is to have some sort of intel prior to [when] the shooting occurs.”

Muncey said he questioned the shooter about whether anyone else knew he had a gun that day. The shooter responded that it was “quite possible that somebody saw a bulge in my front pocket,” according to Muncey.

“There’s no doubt they knew,” he said. “Somebody else in that school knew. One of his friends. One of his cohorts. Somebody saw something, something that was suspicious. But there was no way for those kids to communicate with us.”

MPD chose a “low-tech” way to change that, said Don Monk, law-enforcement technical coordinator. The department implemented a simple, inexpensive solution that is known in Madison as “Text to Protect.”