WSAZ INVESTIGATES | Recognizing Danger | #schoolsaftey

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – Select West Virginia schools are rolling out a new tool to help prevent acts of violence on school campuses.

Four districts have installed or are in the process of installing facial recognition technology.

The Department of Education said those county schools include Marion, Taylor, Doddridge, and Putnam.

The technology rollout comes after 19 separate hoax threat calls were reported in December 2022 regarding school shootings or other violence on campuses across the state. At this time, all calls received have been deemed not credible.

Rob Cunningham, the Deputy Cabinet Secretary of Homeland Security, recalled the emotions that ran through the state that winter day.

“I hate that we had to experience that. It’s a very, very stressful situation, especially as a first responder whether… you work in EMS, fire, or police. You know… you’re going to the scene and as far as you know it’s real,” Cunningham said. “As far as the schools once they’re going on lockdown. Your teachers, students, and administrators as far as they know… it’s real.”

All threats were deemed not credible.

Scott Swann, West Virginia native and the CEO of Rank One Computing said his company developed the software used in the facial recognition technology.

The company primarily works with military and law enforcement, but Swann said they wanted to expand their technology to help West Virginia Schools.

“We realized we were sitting on technology that we’re using for some other purposes. We could tailor [it] to really provide a valuable service to the schools,” Swann said.

The software will integrate with pre-existing camera systems on school property to help reduce overall startup costs.

“The idea that if someone is holding a gun, then our computer vision kit essentially… we can create some sort of alert and send that to potentially the school resource officer or even to the emergency services if need be, that someone there may be a gunman on the campus of one of our local schools,” Swann said.

David Harper, Poca High School Principal, said school safety measures have changed throughout the years, but looks forward to implementing a new tool to help keep students safe.

“It doesn’t make it easier. It just makes it a little more comforting to know we have people here and things in place to keep our students safe,” said, Harper.” Threats could happen anywhere…whether it’s in Poca, West Virginia, or in Chicago. You’re not immune to that. I think that is a reality of the situation.”

While concerns about data collection have been raised, Swann said the company is not collecting any additional data the school system collects. All photos and information used to recognize faces are stored on the schools’ network and run through the algorithm.

Rank One Computing is working with state and law enforcement to develop a screening tool to detect criminals including registered sex offenders.

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