Getting High-Tech with School Safety | #schoolsaftey

Artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and other high-tech equipment can help prevent active shooters

It seems like every two or three months in the United States, a school shooting or safety incident makes national news as innocent children, teachers and administrators are subjected to violent acts in their school communities.  

As school shootings reach an all-time high, school safety professionals are turning their attention to the role artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other high-tech equipment can play in managing building access and thwarting any attempts at violence. Specifically, facility managers are making investments in areas such as upgrading cameras, card readers and access controls. While more structural than technical, many schools are making investments to be able to secure front entrances. 

“I think it is important to realize that trends in smart building technology are going to conveniently assist in this indirectly,” says Peter Costanzo, director at ROI Consulting Group. “A core concept of a smart building is that it reacts to the occupants. In order for a building to react to occupants there has to be a method to track where people are. There are several ways to do this. In the U.S., an anonymous model will probably take hold. In the case of an emergency, knowing where people are concentrated is a powerful tool.” 

Of course, no technological solution is perfect. Some are more powerful than others. A prudent and most common approach to this is combining several technological solutions, Costanzo says. A camera can be a powerful tool, but someone needs to be monitoring it. An entryway sensor can indicate when a door is opened, but there is no way to know if one person opened the door and 20 people walked in.    

“Now if you combine the two you have a better solution set,” Costanzo says. There are also emerging technologies used in other areas that will help.”  

While not used much in schools yet, occupancy and counting sensors are being used heavily in corporate office space. If a counter sensor is placed on the inside of the doorway described above, facility managers would know if one person opened the door and more than one walked in.  

“However, the bad thing about technology is it is ever evolving. Trying to stay current with the best solutions is frankly cost prohibitive and takes away from the mission of a school,” Costanzo says. 

Collaboration between departments is key 

One of the primary issues facing school safety initiatives and technology is that school safety and facility management are often on different paths, says John McDonald, co-founder and chief operating officer at the Council for School Safety Leadership

 “There’s not consistency. There’s not collaboration,” McDonald says. “Certainly, in some pockets there is collaboration but in too many locations around the country what I’m seeing a school safety and facilities people are not aligned in their thoughts of school safety and the role of technology. School safety is focused on safety, and facilities really have a much bigger focus than just safety. They focus on establishing and maintaining warm/safe/dry/and cool/safe/dry facilities.” 

It is really important that those two teams work together on the same page. 

“You’re stronger together than if you’re speaking separately,” McDonald says. 

Of course, the integration of advanced technology, including IoT and AI is one area that needs everyone to be on the same page as integrating these technological tools and systems requires input, strategy, know-how, and monitoring from various parties.  

“Technology use and function has evolved significantly within the school environment in the last 20 years,” McDonald says. “Originally, camera systems were primarily employed to stop vandalism and the images were reminiscent of those of Bigfoot… grainy and nondescript. Cameras today include facial recognition software and weapons detection software with a myriad of additional sensors that can now pick up language, crying, yelling, and screaming.”  

However, school safety professionals have to determine where do they spend their money.  

“For instance, we know that outside shooters will shoot through glass to get in,” McDonald says. “So do you invest in strengthening your glass? Or invest in technology? Also, one of the biggest challenges is that many of our school buildings are at least 50 years old. Retrofitting these buildings with new technology is extremely expensive compared to a new build.”  

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