KBS Reference Desk: HB 103 Texas Active Shooter Alert

Q.        I heard there is a new Active Shooter Alert System in the event of a reported active shooter in the school district’s jurisdiction. Does this mean that local law enforcement is liable if the alert is not activated?

 A.       No. While HB 103 requires the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to develop and implement an alert system to be activated when there is a report of an active shooter, the new legislation provides explicitly that DPS and law enforcement are not liable in the event they fail to activate an alert.

House Bill 103, often referred to as the “Leilah Hernandez Act,” amends current law relating to establishment of the Texas Active Shooter Alert System (TASAS).   The new statute requires DPS, in conjunction with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot), the Governor’s office, and other appropriate law enforcement agencies in the State, to develop and implement an alert system to be activated by local law enforcement when there is a report of an active shooter. Leilah Hernandez was a high school student who was a victim of the tragic August 2019 Midland-Odessa shooting and was shot more than an hour after the shooting spree began and at a location far from the shooter’s initial origin. TASAS is intended to work similar to the Amber Alert emergency messaging platform  and was created with the hope that notification of an active shooter’s location will result in concerted efforts to avoid the vicinity and ultimate harm. The purpose of TASAS, therefore, is to provide additional protection to students, staff, and community and is not intended to open state and local agencies up to liability. As such, the new legislation provides that any failure to activate the system will not result in liability to DPS or local authorities.

Fortunately, HB 103 was signed by the Governor on May 24, 2021. This allowed time for development and implementation prior to its September 1, 2021, effective date. The system was rolled out timely, with an informational page included on the DPS website devoted to the program. Forms for use in requesting activation of TASAS by local law enforcement are available at:

https://www.dps.texas.gov/section/intelligence-counterterrorism/active-shooter-alert.

The criterion for activation by local law enforcement involves: (1) belief that an active shooter is in the agency’s jurisdiction, (2) determination that an active shooter alert would assist individuals near the active shooter’s location; (3) verification of the active shooter situation through a preliminary investigation; and (4) description of the active shooter’s last known location and any identifiable information for the active shooter.

The Director of DPS has been designated by statute to be the statewide coordinator of the alert system “responsible for adoption of rules and directives as necessary to ensure proper implementation.” Importantly, the Director is to “recruit participants” to implement the alert system, including local governmental entities, as well as seek cooperation of public and private communication systems including radio, television, and wireless providers. While the initial development occurred over the summer months, application of TASAS will likely evolve over time. Monitoring the DPS website (linked above) and establishing a line of communication with local law enforcement is recommended to ensure participation at the table and a thorough understanding of the potential impact to your ISD upon activation of an alert at or near the school district.

For specific questions or additional information regarding the Texas Active Shooter Alert System, please consult with your local school law attorney.

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