TAVARES, Fla. – As students in Central Florida return to class, school administrators are working to improve campus safety with technology including mobile panic alert buttons and artificial intelligence-powered gun detection systems.
Teachers and other staff in Lake County schools will soon be able to activate school lockdowns and immediately call law enforcement with just a few clicks of a button on a plastic badge attached to lanyards worn around their necks.
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The school board recently approved the purchase of a crisis alert system manufactured by Centegix, which administrators hope to roll out to all Lake County public schools by early next year.
“If there is a situation on campus that requires law enforcement, all employees will have access to the device and can activate an alert,” said Joseph Mabry, superintendent of safety and security for Lake County Schools. “He will provide immediate assistance.
Lake County schools first implemented a basic panic alert system in 2018, two years before state lawmakers passed a law requiring all public schools to remotely notify law enforcement and other first responders of an emergency.
Named in honor of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, who was among the 17 people killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the “Alyssa Alert” law mandated that all schools by 2021 deploy a mobile panic alert system. – 2022 academic year.
While most state-approved vendors provide an app-based system that requires school staff to use cell phones or other mobile devices to call for help, the Centegix system purchased by Lake County Schools is the only one that uses a credit card-sized plastic badge with a physical panic button.
By switching to an easy-to-use device that can be worn on a strap, administrators say it will eliminate the need for employees to install apps on their phones and avoid the problems of spotty cellular or Wi-Fi connections.
“Every employee, every incoming employee, every district employee will get one of those ropes. And anytime they’re on any campus, they’ll have the ability to activate that alert,” said Alex Hanke, the district’s safety and security technology specialist. “We can move to a 100% adoption rate across the district.
With three clicks of the panic button, staff can activate an internal alert that notifies fellow school staff of an incident such as a classroom disruption, fight or minor medical emergency.
“They have the ability to ask for a tiered response where they can say, ‘I need help now.’ However, this is not necessarily a law enforcement problem. I just need help,” Hanke told News 6.
By pressing the button additional times, staff can immediately lock down the school, activating flashing lights, sirens and recorded audio messages broadcast over the university’s public information system.
More importantly, those few button clicks will send an automatic alert to law enforcement and other emergency responders that help is needed immediately at the school.
“Throughout the summer, our law enforcement agencies have done a lot of intensive training to improve their skills and learn new techniques to improve response times,” Mabry said.
Antennas installed in all schools will allow the exact location of the employee to be displayed on the map of the campus.
“It can locate you within a couple of feet in any room on any floor, which gives responding officers a much more accurate picture of where they need to go to offer that assistance,” Hanke said.
“It’s just another layer of security and safety,” Mabry added. “We hope our parents feel comfortable knowing that we will do everything we can to keep their children safe every day.”
Seminole County schools expand gun detection system
Seminole County Public Schools recently expanded the use of a gun detection system that relies on artificial intelligence to identify possible firearms.
ZeroEyes was first installed at Oviedo High in 2020. as part of a pilot program.
The technology has since been expanded to more than a dozen other campuses, according to school district officials. The district declined to identify specific schools for security reasons.
“We can discuss gun laws, we can offer thoughts and prayers, and we can talk about mental health,” said ZeroEyes founder Sam Alaimo. “But right now we have a proactive solution that can be implemented today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow to keep students and teachers safe from active shooters.”
Using the school’s existing security camera system, an artificial intelligence program developed by ZeroEyes scans live video streams for objects that resemble weapons.
If a suspected firearm is detected, the security camera image is immediately sent to ZeroEyes headquarters in Pennsylvania, where a team of former military and law enforcement officers determine if it is a weapon.
Once a firearm is confirmed, ZeroEyes notifies school officials electronically and can also contact law enforcement.
“This image of the shooter will allow first responders to know where to go, what they are looking for and when exactly that person was at that location,” Alaimo said. “Law enforcement can get that alert within three to five seconds, get to that shooter’s location and potentially prevent that shooter from pulling the trigger.”
Based on FBI reports, ZeroEyes officials say that 70-80% of active shooting incidents are “staged” in advance, with the shooter displaying the weapon outside minutes before the attack.
The technology cannot detect concealed weapons or weapons that are not visible on school cameras.
Last year, several witnesses reported seeing an Oviedo High School student with a gun during a homecoming event that took place at night outside the school. There is no indication in police records that security cameras captured video of the alleged incident, and according to school district officials, the ZeroEyes system did not detect it on the school’s camera feed. Police never found the gun, and prosecutors declined to press charges.
“We found thousands of weapons. Some are real, some are fake,” said Alaimo, whose company also provides firearms detection services to commercial and government clients.
“The ZeroEyes artificial intelligence system is just one additional layer in the multiple layers of our school safety and security plan and resources,” Seminole County Public Schools spokesman Michael Lawrence said. “Others that make up the mix that we can discuss publicly are our school resource officers on every campus, security cameras, fences, the Raptor soft panic button app for staff, and our anonymous reporting systems like the Speak-Out Hotline, P3 Campus. The app and the FortifyFL program are available to our students and families.
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