How Schools are Getting Safer One Device at a Time

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Technology is doing more in classrooms today than improving curriculum and making teachers’ jobs easier – it is also providing groundbreaking security options for districts looking to further student safety.

The host of tragedies that have taken place throughout the country in recent months, such as the shootings which occurred last year in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas have forever altered America’s collective conscious, pushing school security concerns to the top of parents’ and teachers’ priority lists. School leaders are now challenged to mitigate the risk of a safety incident from occurring under their leadership as they continue to prioritize student privacy and emotional well-being.

Advancement in technologies like facial recognition software, notification apps, and intercom-radio connection systems are a few options that schools have begun exploring to keep their students safer.

St. Therese Catholic Academy in Seattle took a huge leap forward this academic year in implementing state-of-the-art security by adopting a new, AI-supported facial recognition software called SAFR, according to EdSurge. SAFR, short for Secure, Accurate Facial Recognition, works by scanning a face for recognition before it allows someone to enter a building. The tool compares the facial scan to a stored database and unlocks the door when a recognized person smiles. RealNetworks, the Seattle-based software company that developed the technology, has made SAFR free for all K-12 schools, though new hardware required to get the SAFR system running can still cost a fair sum.

Another safety protocol option now available for schools is to use an app-based notification system like Smart Button by Anonymous Alerts, which is capable of placing a school on lock-down when an anonymous panic button is held down for three seconds.

Tara Harford, a teacher at Krum High School in Krum, Texas reported to Fox News that the Smart Button app can send out an anonymous blast to school leaders and to first responders, who would be able to use the reporting cell phone’s location data to pinpoint the precise position of an attacker. Anonymous Alerts launched the app in response to the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, reports Fox.

Schools also have the option to integrate old technology with new by using a radio-to-intercom system that allows teachers’ handheld radios to override the school intercom system in the event of an emergency, as reported in Campus Safety Magazine.

This is the solution that Farmington, New Mexico schools adopted after police department communications specialist Ben McGaha realized that the single point of access to school intercom, normally the school office, could present a threat if it were ever compromised. Farmington schools now use Ritron, Inc.’s “Radio-to-Intercom Bridge,” which allows teacher radios to override the intercom system when a passcode is entered. This way, if a potential intruder gained access to the school office, another teacher could safely alert the whole campus via intercom.

Districts will continue experiment with new technology as they grapple with the challenge of finding effective security solutions that do not infringe upon student and staff privacy. Education systems still must confront the many interconnected problems that have brought misfortune to school campuses, and high-tech tools are only a first step to preventing further harm.

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