For some time, the call to “harden our schools” has been sounded by politicians, parents, teachers, school leaders, news outlets and citizens heartbroken and terrified by mass school shootings across the nation. However, the term “harden” seems to mean different things to different people. For some, it means training and arming teachers. For others, it means redesigning the school buildings. And for still others, it means creating partnerships between schools and law enforcement. Throughout the many solutions offered, one common thread stands out. Subject matter experts, architects and politicians all seem to agree that the technology to see inside the school, to allow school administrators and law-enforcement agencies to be in direct, immediate communication, and to recognize potential threats before a shot is fired is of critical importance in the effort to prevent this type of violence against our children.
Political leaders, stakeholders and school administrators have searched for solutions that will “harden” our schools and prevent another tragedy. Governor Gregg Abbott of Texas, in response to the tragic shooting in Santa Fe, compiled a list of twenty-two ideas to improve school security in Texas.1 These included the creation of threat assessment teams, implementing strategies that “make it easier to share information,” and mandating “collaboration between law enforcement and schools” to create emergency action plans, and the “creation” of technology that allows law enforcement to see inside the school during a threat.” 2
Additional suggestions for metal detectors, bullet-proof doors, and other methods for securing buildings structurally were questioned by members of Texas law enforcement. According to the KUT report “Hardening Schools Won’t Keep Kids Safe, Police Officials Tell Senators.”3 “Mike Matranga, executive director for security and school safety at Texas City ISD, said . . . ‘Metal detectors work only if people are coming in through one door . . . schools have multiple entries and monitoring those would be a logistical and financial burden. If I can’t guarantee that what’s on the other side of the metal detector is secure, what’s the point of spending the money on the metal detectors?” 4
Many structural changes have already been made to new and existing school buildings throughout the United States to enhance schools’ security. According to “Architects: Hardening Schools Won’t Solve School Shootings” published in Reporting Texas, 5 “‘While the threat of an active shooter has influenced the work of school architects, added design features can only do so much to deter violence . . . ‘The hardening of facilities is primarily a tactic to buy time, to slow down a perpetrator and give responders a chance to react,‘ said Sean Connor, a partner at Pfluger Architects, an educational architecture firm in Austin.” 6
The State of Indiana, in their report, “Indiana School Safety Recommendations” 7 suggested that schools “enhance technology related to school safety by investing in the development of a School Safety Technology Site or ‘Indiana School Safety Hub.8 The report notes that “Using the proper technology to streamline communication may help educators prevent and respond to school violence faster and more effectively.” 9
Finally, a Forbes Technology Counsel article entitled “How New Innovations Can Make Schools Safer #” reports, “The golden rule is ‘time saved means lives saved.”10 Captain Rick Francis, the director of school safety and security for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, told the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Public Education. “One of the most important safety and security measures you can take is to ensure direct, instant and effective communication between schools and law enforcement.”11 The article went on to report, “Many security-conscious school districts are embracing technology solutions to enhance facets of their security programs. School security can be broken down into two categories: prevention and response. In the case of prevention, there are two main objectives. The first is advanced threat detection, and the second is access denial. With respect to emergency response, the goals are immediate intervention and threat elimination followed by rapid medical support for those injured. An additional objective is to account for evacuated students and reunite them with families and caregivers . . . Beyond hardening technologies, such as bulletproof glass, door locks and limited access through security vestibules, schools are investing in upgrading video surveillance systems and panic button alert systems. In the video surveillance area, cutting-edge solutions are emerging that use facial recognition and license plate readers to identify and alert staff to intruders. Schools with large campuses also look to solutions like indoor gunshot detection systems that can identify and report the location of a gunshot to the police while alerting the school community.”12
What if, instead of getting spotty information secondhand from a 911 operator, police were notified of the exact location of a shooting situation, knew who the victims and shooters were, had an inventory of the weapons on site, and knew the real-time status of the threat? Athena Security can arm first-responders with this information.
Athena Security proposes a new, proactive threat-detection and alert system that automatically detects knives, guns, and hand-to-hand violence in a real-time video feed. Athena Security uses artificial intelligence and motion detection to spot threatening objects – like guns and knives, and threatening motion – like someone drawing a gun or raising a fist. Athena also connects with a camera’s speaker, so officers or negotiators can communicate directly with the assailant. When a threat is present, Athena connects law enforcement to the threat in real-time and gives them the ability see inside and to end the threat before anyone is hurt, even when first-
responders cannot make it to the site in time.
Once Athena detects a threat, it sends critical information in real-time to a monitoring service. That service validates the threat and reaches out to law enforcement agencies. Athena’s AI-powered technology analyzes multiple data points to detect threats faster and more accurately than systems that rely solely on human observation. These systems can recognize a shooter brandishing a gun at a teacher, analyze the teacher’s stress levels, use facial recognition capabilities to identify the criminal, and respond to dangerous situations immediately and accurately. Once an alarm is triggered, Athena offers the option to provide a lock down if the client chooses to “plug in.” It can stop all elevators unless manual over ride key is inserted (fireman have a key by default), lock all classroom doors from outside access if a gun is detected, turn on lights, close all parking gates, and send text messages to third parties selected by the client.
For exclusively cloud-based systems, surveillance data are slow to upload. If the connection is dropped, critical information may be delayed or lost. Athena uses proprietary technology to decentralize the data feed, mitigating the potential for data loss. Athena’s system continues to work even if a device is destroyed or a connection is dropped.
Because of Athena’s hybrid connection, video feeds can be viewed at any time on any device with an internet connection. Athena focuses on leading edge software, allowing users to integrate with existing security systems.
Threats to schools, to school children, are a reality that must be faced. However, schools need not be soft targets. Administrators now have the option to harden schools against active shooters through the use of AI-driven surveillance that can detect a threat, recognize the shooter and send real-time information to law-enforcement from inside the school.
1. Buchele, Mose. “Here Are 22 Ideas Gov. Abbott Shared for Stopping School Shootings. http://www.kut.org/post/here-are-22-ideas-gov-abbott-shared-stopping-school-shootings 23 May 2018.
3. Anchondo, Carlos. “Architects: Hardening Schools Won’t Solve School Shootings.” Reporting Texas 10 April 2018 http://reportingtexas.com/architects-hardening-schools-wont-solve-school-shootings/
5. McInerny, Clair. “Hardening Schools Won’t Keep Kids Safe, Police Officials Tell Senators.” KUT News. http://www.kut.org/post/hardening-schools-wont-keep-kids-safe-police-officials-tell-senators 11 June 2018.
7. 2018 Indiana School Safety Recommendations. State of Indiana. https://www.in.gov/dhs/files/2018-Indiana-School-Safety-Recommendations.pdf Accessed 17 Oct 2018.
10. Hatten, Mark. “How New Innovations Can Make Schools Safer.” Forbes Technology Council. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/09/06/how-new-innovations-can-make-schools-safer/#2fefb7f8736b 6 September 2018.