Sensing Danger in 2020
AI-powered detection, prevention and privacy
- By Clayton Brown
- December 01, 2019
When bullet-proof backpacks are sold out at your local
Wal-Mart, you know something must change. Yet many
school leaders are left wondering how to begin taking
steps to properly ensure greater school safety. While
politicians debate gun policy in Washington, innovative
school leaders can be proactive and effective today using AI-powered
physical security technologies. AI-assisted security can have a real
impact on student life safety through better prevention, detection and
management – all while balancing privacy concerns.
Before we dive into how AI can help improve safety on our campuses,
let’s examine how it works. Essentially, AI simulates the human
intelligence process in that it acquires information and identifies patterns
to then appropriately respond. One of the core components of
this intelligence is an artificial neural network (ANN). Similar to the
human brain’s nervous system, an ANN works with countless, various
types of sensors.
AI and Situational Awareness
Human sensors are eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue. They identify
features of the environment – people, things, temperature, light or
darkness, moisture, sounds and many other things. As those sensors
activate, humans respond. Internal variables adjust, patterns are identified
and reactions are formulated. For example, the smell of smoke
indicates fire, and the brain sends signals to the body to take appropriate
action to escape danger.
A more sophisticated example would be how human behavior and,
ultimately, a person’s character is assessed. Over time, personality traits
are identified and changes in behavior are observed. All of this information
leads to the development of a trust or no-trust relationship.
When it comes to physical security technology today, the artificial
neural network sensors can be surveillance cameras, sensors, access
control systems, IoT devices, big data, social media plug-ins and
human input. As those sensors feed internal variables, the ANN
learns and identifies patterns of risk, providing real-time situational
awareness to human personnel.
AI may seem like magic, but it is real and it’s available today within
innovative security solutions. It can evaluate large amounts of data to
identify threats that might otherwise go unnoticed. This fundamentally
changes the game in physical security and will affect all traditional
components of a layered solution.
When AI is integrated into physical security infrastructures, it can
help to address the number one threat concerning parents and school
districts - and likely number two and three as well: active shooters.
This phenomenon is now so prevalent that it can be considered an
epidemic. Last year was the deadliest on record for school shootings
– at least 83 died or were injured in active-shooter incidents. Since
Columbine, at least 228,000 students have been exposed to gun violence
at school, according to a study by The Washington Post.
Thankfully, school violence is receiving more of the attention it
deserves from innovators and policymakers alike. An estimated 67
percent of districts are currently conducting active shooter exercises;
others are designing schools that are built with safety in mind.
Recently, lawmakers also proposed a bill to establish a national database
as a resource for districts to assess, identify, and share information
on school security technology and innovation.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the ways AI can enhance the security
technologies and efforts that every school district, parent and
teacher can begin advocating for and implementing going into 2020.
AI-Powered Weapon Detection
High security is the objective, but there is a dual-mandate to make sure
it doesn’t feel like high security. New AI-powered software and sensor
systems are making this dual-mandate possible in a discreet way.
Previous generations of school security have relied on metal
detectors, forcing students to queue up like they are entering a courtroom.
New AI-powered weapon detection is changing this with discrete
and passive detection methods, such as:
- AI-powered microwave systems that can detect concealed weapons
such as guns or knives
- AI-powered video analytics that can detect handguns, rifles,
objects left behind or a fight breaking out
- AI-powered chemical detection that can detect gunpowder, explosives
- AI-powered gunshot detection that can determine the location of
a gunshot and the type of firearm used
AI-Powered Security Management
While improved detection systems are important, AI-powered security
management is what transforms these analytics into action. When any
or all of these detection systems are used in conjunction with AI-powered
security platforms, mustering is improved by helping to:
- Notify police instantly and stream surveillance to first responders
for improved mitigation
- Communicate with students and parents to share the safety status
of the student and risk status of the threat
- Prescribe appropriate procedures and remediation actions to
resource officers and security operators, based on the location, the
criticality and the stage of the situation underway
- Automatically adjust access permissions and initiate emergency
lockdown procedures for certain zones based on the specific location
of the incident
There are new technologies that carry certain elements of controversy,
particularly regarding privacy. Facial recognition has been in the
news, which we will discuss, but I will also introduce a concept farther
on the cutting-edge - monitoring student behavior.
At the core of both technologies is the privacy of a student’s identity
- and this isn’t trivial. The good news is that new AI-powered
security platforms allow school districts to have their cake and eat it
too - meaning privacy is the norm - but when safety is at risk, safety
is the highest priority.
Video analytics and facial recognition are popular ways to learn
more about any environment, but student privacy is also key. AIpowered
security management can configure video analytics to only
identify “unknown” faces, while allowing known faces to go detected,
but without reporting that a student’s specific identity was detected.
When these platforms detect such a situation from video analytics or
weapon detection systems, “safety first” mode can be activated, allowing
the facial recognition to start identifying the student faces to better
know their location and status, without relying on mobile apps or muster
procedures - both of which are easily forgotten in an emergency.
This improves situational awareness and drastically reduces the
chances and potential harm by an active shooter event, while still
keeping student privacy central to everyday school operations. This is
called “conditional facial recognition” or “safety-first privacy.”
AI-Powered Perimeter Defense
With the advent of AI-based approaches, perimeter defense solutions
are the initial line of defense of a layered security system and
help to detect a threat from a distance. Specialized sensors can be
used in conjunction with other elements such as cameras and monitored
with AI-based security software to identify threats just outside
the campus walls.
For example, license plate recognition can be integrated to detect,
“vehicles of interest” or “persons of interest,” and AI-assisted drones
can be used to help detect threats from above before they become an
issue, or follow the threat in case an incident occurs.
AI-Powered Entrance Control
While turnstiles may not have changed dramatically in form, their
use within a layered security solution can provide invaluable data
about traffic patterns to an AI-based solution , as well as become the
first barrier in an active shooter scenario.
Randomized spot checks, controlled throughput and directed traffic
flows can be initiated and managed via intelligent, risk-based solutions
as threats are detected.
The ultimate goal is to stop an individual before they bring a weapon
to school in the first place or to stop a student on their path to harm,
before any force is needed to keep a community safe.
To continue pushing the envelope, there are systems that use community
observations to better monitor dangerous behaviors. The FBI
has concluded that there are 17 symptoms of a student’s path to
becoming a potential active shooter.
Many times, these behaviors are noticed by various members of a
community, but are not communicated to an appropriate central
authority. This is most likely because there has not been a technology
capable of tracking this until now. However, it is also likely to stay this
way, as parents want to ensure their student is not falsely accused or
permanently labeled by any human or technology. Predicting behavior
before it happens may seem a little like the “Precognitives” in The
Minority Report, and simply too far for what our society is ready to
This is where an important conversation is required by all community
stakeholders. Privacy and security are two-sides of the same
informational coin, so to speak. As with many concerns and questions,
our society is looking for a mutually exclusive answer, rather
than a balanced hybrid solution. AI-powered security management
allows for such a balanced solution that keeps privacy in mind while
keeping safety a top priority.
There is no right answer, or one-size-fits-all policy for such a
multi-faceted issue. But the good news is that AI-powered security
technology is here to help you build a proactive security posture that
protects your students’ identity as well as life safety.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.