Bulletproof backpacks, #2 pencils and iPads – Preparing for Back-to-School Season in the Era of Active Shooters

Facial Recognition Metal Detectors School Safety
By Mike Ellenbogen, CEO at Evolv Technology

The impending Labor Day celebration not only signifies the end of summer but also the start of the back-to-school season. Whether school buses are already making their daily routes through your neighborhood or you’re still chasing your kids to finish those final pages in their assigned summer reading, there is a dark cloud lingering above the back-to-school season: active shooter prevention and protection.

In past years, those of us who are parents have become accustomed to the run-of-the-mill back-to-school shopping list. However, as we enter the 2018-2019 school year, we are facing purchase decisions we never thought we would have to make. The list we’re armed with doesn’t feel quite as light in our hands.

Bulletproof backpacks, clear backpacks and TuffyPacks. These are now the items that fill back-to-school shopping carts.

The active shooter incidents that targeted schools last year created a ripple effect that was felt around the country. With reports of Parkland still ringing in our ears, school boards, superintendents and principals spent the summer brainstorming and hypothesizing about potential solutions. While parents have been tracking down bulletproof school supplies, teachers have been immersed in active shooter training programs while school districts are spending millions installing bulletproof windows.

Undeniably, this is an issue that needs to be solved particularly as soft targets and large places where individuals gather continue to be targets for attackers. Today, attackers are looking to inflict as much pain and damage as possible with one attack. What’s more, in the U.S. in particular, the access to guns has made it easy for anyone with a grievance to act on it in a way that can affect hundreds of lives.

As school districts, local officials, parents and students rally together to put forth a solution, it’s difficult to get a grasp on where to start or what even qualifies as a good solution. Some schools are already equipped with metal detectors – should others follow suit? Are metal detectors practical for a school environment? What about AI, facial recognition and other innovative technologies? When is it an invasion of privacy?

As the need for solutions to combat active shooters in schools continues to grow, the security industry is responding two-fold on both the consulting side and the technology side. Organizations of all sizes have been motivated to deliver technology that will help make school a safer place. As a result, the number of solutions and innovations available to us seem endless.

Technology can help us do incredible things. It can analyze thousands of data points in seconds. It can help you see things from miles away. It can identify an object as something specific based on pre-programmed characteristics. Leveraging technology – whether it be cameras or sensors – and applying it to physical security, particularly as it relates to schools, can significantly improve the safety of the environment without creating a prison-like atmosphere.

One technology that cannot be ignored when discussing this topic is face recognition. Today many schools require students to carry photo ID badges which allow them to get onto campus and also enter various buildings on school property. The face recognition most schools rely on today is based on staff using their eyes to detect someone or something that’s “just not right”.  This is inconsistent, inherently fallible, and biased.  Automated face recognition technology doesn’t blink – it’s always on, it’s consistent and objective, rather than relying on human memory and attention. Face recognition can be instrumental in helping to enhance a school’s security posture by automatically identifying individuals who shouldn’t be on the premises, or others that pose a potential threat based on input from local law enforcement, teachers or school administration.

Technology however, is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s more than just leveraging the technology available today to solve this problem – it’s about fostering a conversation. While it is promising to see school districts around the country spring into action ahead of the coming school year, there is a need for much closer, tighter coordination between all involved parties.

Only when we take an integrated, holistic approach – that marries technology and the broader discussion – will we find ourselves with a proactive plan to combat this problem. At Evolv, we look forward to continuing to cultivate those partnerships and foster those much-needed conversations as we work to identify a solution to this ever-pressing problem.

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