TAVARES, Fla. – As students throughout Central Florida return to class, school administrators are working to improve campus security with the use of technology including mobile panic alert buttons and gun detection systems powered by artificial intelligence.
Teachers and other employees of Lake County Schools will soon be able to activate school lockdowns and immediately summon 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 have operational in all Lake County public schools by early next year.
“If there is a situation on campus that requires law enforcement, all staff members will have access to the device and can trigger an alert,” said Joseph Mabry, the safety and security supervisor at Lake County Schools. “It will provide immediate assistance without delay.”
Lake County Schools first implemented a basic panic alert system in 2018, two years before state legislators passed a law requiring all public schools to provide a way to remotely notify law enforcement and other first responders of an emergency.
Named in honor of 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, who was among 17 people killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the “Alyssa’s Alert” law mandated all schools to implement a mobile panic alert system by the 2021-2022 school year.
While most of the state-approved vendors provide an app-based system that requires school personnel to use cell phones or other mobile devices to summon help, the Centegix system being purchased by Lake County Schools is the only one that uses a credit card-sized plastic badge containing a physical panic button.
By switching to a simple-to-activate device that can be worn on a lanyard, administrators say it will eliminate the need for employees to install apps on their phones while avoiding challenges caused by spotty cellular or wi-fi coverage.
“Every staff member, every visiting staff member, every district staff member will all receive one of those lanyards. And anytime they’re on any campus, they will have the ability to trigger that alert,” said District Safety and Security Technologies Specialist Alex Hanke. “We can go straight to a 100% adoption rate districtwide.”
With three clicks of the panic button, employees can activate an internal alert notifying fellow school personnel of an incident such a classroom disruption, a fight, or a minor medical emergency.
“They have the ability to request a tiered response where they can say, ‘I need help right now. But this isn’t necessarily a law enforcement issue. I just need assistance,’” Hanke told News 6.
By pressing the button additional times, employees can immediately place the school on lockdown while triggering flashing lights, sirens, and recorded audio messages broadcast over the campus public address system.
More significantly, those multiple button clicks will send an automatic alert to law enforcement and other emergency first responders that help is needed at the school immediately.
“Throughout the summer, our law enforcement agencies have done a lot of intensive training to hone their skills and learn new methods to reduce the response time,” said Mabry.
Antennas installed throughout the schools will allow the employee’s precise location to be displayed on a campus map.
“It can triangulate your position 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.
“This is just another layer of providing some safety and security,” added Mabry. “We hope that our parents are comfortable knowing we will do everything in our power to keep their children safe each and every day.”
Gun Detection System Expanded in Seminole County Schools
Seminole County Public Schools has recently expanded the use of a gun detection system that relies on artificial intelligence to identify potential firearms.
ZeroEyes was first installed at Oviedo High in 2020 as part of a pilot program.
Since then, the technology has been expanded to more than a dozen other campuses, according to school district officials. For security purposes, the district declined to identify the specific schools.
“We can debate gun laws, and we can offer thoughts and prayers, and we can talk about mental health,” said ZeroEyes co-founder Sam Alaimo. “But we have a proactive solution for right now that can be implemented today and tomorrow and the day after to keep students and teachers safe from active shooters.”
Using a school’s existing security camera system, an artificial intelligence application developed by ZeroEyes scans the live video feeds in search of objects that resemble guns.
If a suspected firearm is detected, an image from the security camera is immediately sent to ZeroEyes headquarters in Pennsylvania, where a team of former military and law enforcement personnel determines whether it is a weapon.
Once a firearm is confirmed, ZeroEyes electronically notifies school officials and can also contact law enforcement.
“That image of the shooter is going to allow first responders to know where to go, who they’re looking for, and exactly when that person was at that exact location,” said Alaimo. “Law enforcement can get that alert within three to five seconds, get to the location of that shooter, and potentially stop that shooter from squeezing the trigger.”
Citing FBI reports, ZeroEyes officials say 70% to 80% of active shooter events are “staged” beforehand, with the shooter displaying the gun out in the open several minutes before the attack.
The technology cannot detect concealed weapons or guns that are out of the view of school cameras.
Last year, multiple witnesses reported seeing an Oviedo High School student with a gun at a homecoming event that was held outside the school at night. 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 one on the school’s camera feed. Police never found a weapon and prosecutors declined to file criminal charges.
“We’ve detected thousands of guns. Some real, some fake,” said Alaimo, whose company also provides firearm detection services to commercial and government clients.
“The ZeroEyes artificial intelligence system is just one additional layer that makes up several layers of our School Safety & Security Plan and resources,” said Seminole County Public Schools spokesman Michael Lawrence. “The others that make up that mix that we can publicly discuss include our school resource officers on every campus, security cameras, fencing, Raptor soft panic button app for staff, and our anonymous reporting systems such as the Speak-Out Hotline, P3 Campus App, and FortifyFL app available to our students and families.”
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