How Video AI Can Open Schools’ Eyes to Enhanced Safety

How Video AI Can Open Schools’ Eyes to Enhanced Safety

"It may be difficult to imagine that a solution leveraging cutting-edge video AI technology can be affordable..."

In recent years, tragedies from gun violence at schools have reached an unprecedented frequency—one that threatens to normalize school shootings as a part of everyday American life. It’s hard to deny that very little change has occurred following such tragedies, with public and political debates often raging to a standstill, until the next incident occurs, reignites the same arguments and restarts the cycle.

This status quo doesn’t have to be accepted. The time is now to see that school safety is not a one-dimensional issue. The advent of video artificial intelligence (AI) has made it so that schools can innovatively and cost-effectively improve safety and security measures to significantly better protect their students, through advanced object and facial recognition technology that can proactively detect and prevent a variety of threats.

The discussions around school safety have long been reductive, but advances in the technology sector show that there are several new potential grounds to be broken in the search for solutions. The proposed solutions that get a lot of attention, such as arming teachers and other school employees, are often hotly debated—a survey of Michigan teachers found that 71 percent opposed allowing school employees to carry concealed guns on campus and 67 percent said it wouldn’t be effective in preventing gun violence in schools.1 Emerging innovations in video AI offer answers that circumvent such debates and focus only on the straightforward objective of delivering greater safety to schools, without adding any more risk to the equation.

Amidst politicians, school administrators and others looking to the past and the future for solutions, endlessly debating funding, legislation, technology and more, video AI can cut through the noise and offer a sensible solution best-fit for the present. The latest video AI solutions can generate real-time, intelligent insights, equipping schools with a powerful, self-learning sensor capable of monitoring, detecting and interpreting behaviors and movements by people across physical settings, as well as identifying objects that may present a potential threat. The key reasons video AI can be the answer schools have been looking for are simple: the technology can be extremely easy to adopt, its capabilities make it remarkably effective and it can make a major difference in both crisis situations as well as everyday safety.

Safety Innovation Within Reaching Distance

It may be difficult to imagine that a solution leveraging cutting-edge video AI technology can be affordable, easy to deploy and utilize, but that’s precisely the case. With the introduction of any novel, emerging innovation, a feeling tends to persist that they will not be able to make a realistic impact on everyday lives anytime soon. The reasons for this range from the costs being astronomical, to certain solutions demanding drastic upheavals from a behavioral, technnical or infrastructural standpoint that simply aren’t feasible. Put into the context of schools and their often-strapped budgets, these challenges are amplified even further. Which makes it all the more remarkable that video AI-enabled safety technology is very much an accessible and cost-effective option.

Why? For one, video AI is a software solution that works with existing, conventional security cameras. Rather than needing any fancy new machinery or hardware, this technology simply utilizes footage and livestreams of the security camera set-up schools already have, turning them into essential insights and actions that significantly elevate educators’ ability to keep students safe. As a result, video AI solutions are inherently costfriendly, especially in comparison to more drastic options, such as multiple metal detectors set up at all of a school’s entry points or a staff of armed guards.

Beyond affordability, video AI also helps transform a school’s safety strengths without needing to transform the school itself. Such solutions don’t replace human judgement, but instead enhance school staff’s ability to quickly assess what is happening and how to best respond.

Additionally, given the nature of how video AI works, the technology doesn’t require schools or their students to change their daily lifestyles. This can be incredibly valuable in school environments, where the trauma and mental strain of shootings— regardless of whether a school experienced its own tragedy—does not need to be aggravated on a daily basis by new, in-your-face safety measures.

Earlier in 2018, lawmakers in Illinois proposed plans to provide schools with funds that could help replace armed security officers with unarmed social workers and behavior therapists citing mental health support as a better alternative.2 Furthermore, a study evaluating the impacts of metal detector use in schools over 15 years found some of their research suggesting that the presence of metal detectors might detrimentally impact student perceptions of safety.3

The Extensive Power of Video AI

Juxtaposed with how easy it is to adopt, video AI technology’s capacity to enhance a school’s safety and security can feel almost disproportionate. Its object and facial recognition capabilities are simply that impressive. The latest solutions available can be uniquely configured to the needs and layout of a school, allowing administrators and security personnel to identify and establish ‘hot spots,’ or areas of special concern such as entrances, exits and common gathering points that could be at higher risk for being targeted for violent attacks. School officials can set up alerts and be notified whenever suspicious or off-hours activity is detected in those areas, enabling preventative actions to be taken if necessary.

Taking footage and live feeds from multiple cameras, a video AI solution also enables cross-camera tracking or scanning crowds in and around school grounds with the ability to track individuals and objects from one area of camera coverage to another without losing sight of any specific person or thing. Leveraging advanced, highly accurate object detection, video AI solutions can identify shapes correlating with weapons or items of concern, such as boxes, bags or other notable objects that could present risks of varying levels. Security personnel can be issued alerts when questionable objects are detected or left abandoned for periods of time.

Schools can also pre-load their video AI solutions with publicly available information that can be cross-referenced, enabling the system to send automated identification alerts if it recognizes registered sex offenders, wanted criminals or other dangerous individuals on school grounds. This capability can also extend to include known identities who should have restricted or no access to a school or facility. Incidences of children being picked up—or worse, kidnapped—by a non-custodial or restricted family member can be very common, particularly in the chaos of students released at the end of the day. But with video AI, schools gain a proactive measure to prevent such issues. While these features may spur privacy concerns, the technology can actually be programmed to only detect what’s pre-loaded, eliminating any worries of information being recorded about the general public.

In fact, schools should ensure they select video AI solutions that don’t need to collect personal identifiable information (PII) to function effectively. The best technologies available today can generate and assign metadata on anonymous physical identification characteristics based on what they see through cameras. Rather than storing names, faces, hair color, or similar details, these solutions build a digital map of math coordinates to produce a non-invasive skeletal map and timecode to match. This turns any individual that appears on camera into a hash ID, maintaining their privacy while allowing schools to avoid the risk factors that come with storing and protecting such information.

Better Safety, in Crises and Beyond

While the tragedies of school shootings and the damage they leave behind provide the most pressing need for sensible safety solutions, video AI technologies offer the promise of enhanced security both in crisis situations and on an ongoing basis. In a hypothetical school shooting scenario, a video AI solution would deliver several opportunities for preventative actions such as sending alerts when any individual is in an area he or she shouldn’t be at that time, notifying security personnel of any suspicious objects or activities that are detected and more. These alerts would provide school administrators with ample time to put their lockdown or evacuation procedures into action while onsite security staff manage the situation and local police authorities are notified. The life-saving potential of video AI-generated alerts is substantial, especially considering how valuable that extra time can be in mitigating crises or preventing them altogether.

That benefit isn’t just limited to the crisis event alone, either. A school that implements a video AI solution instantly empowers its own safety operations with the wealth of insights the technology provides. By seeing and understanding how foot traffic moves in the school, where the hot spots are, areas that seem problematic during evacuations or lockdowns and similar details, school administrators can constantly refine their safety measures and procedures. The usual drills can be evolved and perfected based on insights of a school’s physical environment that administrators previously couldn’t access, allowing staff and security to sharper overall in matters of safety. Therefore, video AI technology not only proves effective in the event of a shooting or other crisis, it can actually help fortify a school’s safety processes beforehand—making its value as a preventative measure twofold.

At a time when violent tragedies occur far too frequently at schools across the country, it’s more important than ever to combat the subsequent paralysis and endless debate and seek out solutions that don’t have to take sides and can make a life-saving difference immediately. In video AI, the opportunity is finally available to realize a safer future in schools today, rather than betting hopefully on tomorrow.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.