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Utah schools put AI safety technology to the test | #schoolsaftey


SALT LAKE CITY — From the Capitol to the classroom, Utahns see a need for enhanced school security. Artificial intelligence might be the solution.

Dozens of Utah school districts are relying on AI to stop violence at the door. They told KSL they are seeing an uptick in troubling behaviors, including more weapons on campus.

KSL examined three different kinds of safety technology being used in Utah schools: Evolv, ZeroEyes and AEGIX.

Evolv

Students at Hunter High School have walked in between the Evolv weapon detection towers for the last year. Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said exploring new security technology was necessary.

“About a year and a half ago, we saw an increase of weapons being brought onto school campuses,” Horsely said. “In one year, we had over two dozen weapons brought onto the school campuses, including this campus.”

The Evolv machines use AI to detect items that look like a large knife or a gun.

Hunter High School student walks through Evolv AI weapon detection towers which checks for weapons (Shelby Lofton, KSL TV)

“These are intended to be what you see at a large Marriott center or other large sporting events where you’re walking through, and it’s detecting the size and density and the shape of a potential weapon,” he said.

Horsley said they’ve done a number of undercover operations to test it, and it works.

“In the….little over a year that this has been in place, we have found weapons on the campus outside of the building, so what that shows to us is that internally, students know they can’t bring a weapon onto campus,” he said. “There’s security information provided to us by the state that gang member chatter and other social media posts where kids talk about they can’t bring a weapon onto campus, they know that they’ll get busted for doing so.”

He said the technology removes human bias.

“We’re sensitive to it,” Horsley said. “We wouldn’t want any student to feel targeted as a result of their race or ethnicity. This is why we would want to use an AI sort of technology instead of the human aspect, because it is simply looking for the size and density and shape of a weapon.”

Hunter High School senior Griffin Gallagher told KSL he sees some flaws.

“I felt like if somebody had a hidden pocket or something that was concealed, that bag check being a little more thorough would benefit us a lot,” he said.

Gallagher said he’s dealt with false positive alarms and inconsistent staffing.

“I used to come here from basketball practice early in the morning, and I would remember there would be no one here around 5:30 in the morning, and so I was like, that still brings someone an opportunity to go put something in their locker or hide something in their backpack,” he said. “The guards left at like 2:00 as well, and so after school, it was kind of like I didn’t feel as safe.”

Evolv AI weapon detection towers at Hunter High School (Shelby Lofton, KSL TV)

Horsley said during the pilot program, security guards are only in place during school hours.

“The goal would be to have a system like this for 12 to 15 hours a day,” he said.

He noted the system isn’t in place to prevent an active shooter situation.

“It’s intended to address one component or one layer of security that we feel like we need in our schools here in Granite School District,” Horsley said.

He pointed out adults aren’t required to use the weapon detection system at after-school events, such as sports games and performances.

“State law does allow adults, concealed carry permit holders and otherwise, to be able to bring weapons onto campuses,” Horsley said. “So if and when adults come through this, they’re not required to be screened.”

The district has not yet decided if it will adopt the system after the pilot program ends.

“We went before the Legislature in 2023 and asked for $12 million to address a number of these components and to help pay for a system like this, the goal being the largest component of this cost is actually the personnel to run it,” Horsley said. “The systems themselves can be relatively inexpensive.”

Gallagher said, if the detection system were to stay in place, he’d like to see some adjustments.

“It’s tough because I don’t want to come to school like it’s airport security every day, but I do appreciate being safe at school,” he said.

ZeroEyes

Other schools across the state are testing a different system called ZeroEyes.

ZeroEyes uses AI software built into schools’ existing cameras to spot a potential weapon. Former military and law enforcement members, in monitoring centers staffed around the clock in Hawaii and Pennsylvania, verify if the threat is real.

“Once these experts verify that a gun has been identified, they dispatch alerts and provide actionable intelligence, including visual description, gun type and last known location of the shooter, to local staff and law enforcement as quickly as three to five seconds from detection,” said a ZeroEyes spokesperson.

The company spokesperson told KSL the pricing range is between $20-$50 per camera stream per month, depending on variables such as camera count, contract duration, infrastructure and network.

A ZeroEyes promotional video showcasing its software.

A ZeroEyes promotional video showcasing its software. (Courtesy: ZeroEyes)

Horsley said the Granite School District chose not to use ZeroEyes because its purpose is different from Evolv’s.

“ZeroEyes is addressing a security threat after the weapon is already on campus and where there’s an active shooter situation,” he said. “We see when weapons are brought onto campuses, students aren’t pulling out those weapons and brandishing them. They’re showing those weapons in a bathroom where there’s no cameras.”

As part of school safety requirements legislation, the Utah Legislature enabled the Utah State Board of Education to award a $3 million contract to ZeroEyes and another solution, the AEGIX AIM app, which stands for active incident management. The systems will be implemented in some Utah schools through June 2025.

Interested districts completed a school safety assessment, then applied for government funding to cover the cost through a competitive grant process.

Aegix AIM

Aegix Global CEO Chet Linton said if ZeroEyes experts verify a threat is real, an alert is sent to the Aegix AIM app, which can be downloaded to any mobile device. Individual schools decide who has access to the app.

“If there’s something that happens or if somebody sees something, they pull up their device, click on their phone, choose the type of alert and send it out, and that alert notifies everybody within the building,” Linton said.

The alert is also sent to first responders and dispatch.

In a second, faculty and staff are prompted to answer where they’re located. A live chat and map is sent to them and first responders, helping direct them quickly to the threat.

“If there’s an active shooter, the only way responders or law enforcement, usually it’s a SWAT team finds people is by shots fired or screams,” Linton said. “That’s sobering. That’s scary to me as a grandfather and a parent that that’s how we do it.”

He said the live maps help first responders know which locations are safe and if anyone needs medical attention.

Linton showing KSL TV's Shelby Lofton the live map that first responders can see.

Linton showing KSL TV’s Shelby Lofton the live map that first responders can see. (KSL TV)

“Privacy is always a concern,” Linton said. “With our particular application, the only time that people’s location is identified is in the middle of the incident.”

Linton told KSL Aegix AIM is currently used in about 400 schools across the U.S., including Spanish Fork High School, where they said it made a difference during an emergency last year.

School staff prepared for the worst, when calls reporting an active shooter, came in March of 2023. Teacher Andy Hunsaker told KSL he was able to handle the situation with his students with the help of the Aegix AIM app, which alerted him to the fact the campus was on lockdown and a threat was inside.

“We have guidance that gives teachers a reminder about the things, ‘What do I do in my classroom?’” Linton said. “This has to work when people are full of adrenaline, scared to death and don’t know what else to do. Big, simple buttons and guidance that walks them through it.”

Former Nebo School District spokeswoman Lana Hiskey said she credited the app for quick communication and direction during the lockdown.

“Our principal, he went ahead and hit the alert button, and what that did is it alerted every single one of our staff that there was an incident and to go into lockdown,” Hiskey said.

Spanish Fork High says emergency app helped during hoax call lockdown

Fortunately, that threat was a hoax.

Linton said the app has been successful in preventing shooters in a number of incidents.

A spokesman for AEGIX said prices for the app start at about $2,000 per school, per year and go up depending on services and integrations.

USBE school safety specialist Rhett Larsen told KSL the grant that covers the firearm detection software was a one-time opportunity. If schools want to keep ZeroEyes and Aegix AIM beyond June 30, 2025, they have to pay for it themselves.

“Local Education Agencies wishing to keep these services must pay for it in other ways,” he said.

State Security Chief on safety technology:

State leaders said the safety technology isn’t 100% effective in real emergencies without uniform training.

“I would say technology is kind of a performance enhancer to security,” said newly-appointed State Security Chief Matt Pennington. “There’s some basic things that have to happen.”

Pennington’s position with the Department of Public Safety was created through the school safety requirements 2023 legislation. He previously worked for the South Jordan Police Department for several years.

When asked if Utah schools are equipped to handle safety threats, Pennington said it varies.

“I would say some are better than others, for sure,” Pennington said.

He said schools need to have the basic practices down, despite the technology they choose. His focus is standardizing school safety across the state.

“The hope would be is we kind of get the whole state on the same page so that, if you transfer from Logan to St. George, it’s not a different environment or a different experience,” Pennington said.

Pennington said schools are using different terminology in emergencies, or training at different intervals.

As he travels up and down the state, working with communities to improve their emergency plans, he and others hope the technology can keep students safe in a constantly evolving world.

“I think there’s a lot of different factors, not just shootings or violent intruders, but everything from bullying to social media to all the things that are just in the face of children in this day and age,” Pennington said.



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