When it comes to keeping students safe, there are a range of views about the best methods. However, there’s one thing everyone can agree on — for moral, emotional, and academic reasons, reducing school violence is a top priority.
Many administrators will consider any reasonable measures when deciding how to improve safety and security in schools. Often, that includes implementing technology solutions such as two-way communications devices, entry control equipment, or video systems. And, in many cases, those strategies have helped. According to research conducted by RAND Corporation, “by most measures, school-based violence has declined since the 1990s.”
Despite an overall upward trend in school safety, the recent tragic mass shootings and other high-profile security incidents have highlighted opportunities to further strengthen the security of our students and faculty.
Administrators are seeking new, emerging technologies to shore up security preparedness and protocol. These technologies vary widely in their approaches, but they can be organized into two broad categories: reactive and proactive.
Reactive Technologies — Panic Buttons and Blueprints
The reactive approach to school safety focuses on what happens after an incident begins. During any emergency situation, first responders understand that every second counts and the faster they can identify the cause of the emergency, the faster they can begin to help. Therefore, many technology efforts in this space are focused on increasing alert speed and facilitating faster sharing of vital information with police.
One approach to this problem takes advantage of the fact that more kids are being given smartphones at young ages. According to TechCrunch, the average age when kids received their first smartphone was 10.3 years in 2016. Parents and pediatricians may disagree about the effects of childhood phone ownership, but one benefit is clear — phones can be used to contact authorities in case of emergency.
Certain apps like Rave Mobile Safety, SchoolGuard, and PikMyKid offer digital panic buttons which students can use during a security incident. When students or teachers trigger the alert, their location is automatically sent to first responders, parents, and other emergency contacts.
More advanced school safety apps include features like automatic audio transmission, which can help police officers understand the situation inside the school. That technology, which is now used in several major cities throughout North America, allows police to automatically scan these recordings for gunshots. If gunshots are heard, the data is used to help triangulate the location of the shooter.
While these apps seek to improve response time and assist during incidents, there are other technology companies working to assist in emergency preparedness training.
Proactive Technologies — Visual Documentation and AI
Visual documentation is a well-known service in the construction industry. Companies like Multivista professionally photograph every part of a building and upload those photos to interactive, digital versions of building plans. Multivista even uses UAV photography and 3D virtual walkthroughs to enhance this documentation.
This kind of technology is now being leveraged to assist school and security administrators as they prepare for possible school security incidents. Instead of just reviewing blueprints, for instance, administrators, police officers, safety consultants, and other emergency personnel can view photos and even do 3D virtual walkthroughs of the building, giving them insight into information that could become useful during an incident.
With this level of spatial awareness, officers won’t just know where the doors are — they’ll know what the doors are made of, and whether or not they’re breachable. They’ll be able to identify hiding places and roof access points that aren’t in the plans. Then, armed with this knowledge, they’ll be able to address and prepare for security threats more confidently.
Security personnel responsible for certain schools can review this visual documentation in detail on a regular basis in order to remain freshly prepared in case an incident does occur.
Other proactive technology efforts include the use of artificial intelligence programs to scan the internet for threats. By running student social media accounts through threat-detection algorithms and by searching the internet at large for certain hashtags and keywords, these programs claim to be able to identify risk factors for security threats.
However, this social scanning technology is expensive — and not without its share of controversy. Many activists are concerned that it could be used to falsely identify blameless suspects.
While there are certain factors that must be navigated to balance privacy and prevention, most agree that measures which can be reasonably expected to reduce the threat of violence in schools should be implemented sooner rather than later.