Violence in our schools has clearly reached a boiling point in the United States. One only needs to pull up Facebook, turn on the television, or read the latest news story to hear about the latest school shooting or threat of student violence putting teachers and our children at risk. This is difficult for all parents and grandparents in the U.S.
According to a recent Washington Post analysis, more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Why the U.S. apparently leads the world in school gun violence can and should be the subject of future research. But until we are truly able to effectuate the kind of real change to prevent these incidents in the first place, we need to do all we can to protect our children today. We need to pre-plan and train for these types of emergencies, and embed critical communication systems so we are all prepared. Then, when these incidents do happen, our teachers, administrators, students, and responding public safety professionals have the tools necessary to best protect our children and teachers and quickly apprehend those at fault.
Enter the “smart” school…. A school with sensors to detect gunshots. A school with real time video surveillance and access to voice, video and text over LTE devices. A school in which doors can automatically lock to maximize protection of students and teachers and staff when a threat is detected. A school where everyone inside it has the communications tools they need to communicate internally and, most importantly, with first responders. And live up-to-date platforms that notify students, teachers and administrators about real time actions to be taken, such as sheltering in place or evacuating if needed. Now, that would be incredible.
But wait a second…don’t many schools already have video surveillance? Yes.
Don’t teachers, administrators and other staff already carry smartphones using LTE networks? Yes.
Don’t most, if not all, students also carry smartphones with cameras? Yes.
So, then what are our schools missing?
They are not connected to local public safety agencies so that first responders can access and leverage school communications systems in real time during incidents.
Now this capability is, for the first time, a reality. This is the promise of FirstNet. This solution offers a single, unified, encrypted, prioritized interoperable LTE network for all first responders, effectively creating a completely operable voice, video, and data sharing network, that will always work with priority and preemption for first responders so that they can receive real time video and data from our schools during critical emergencies.
Imagine a smart school deploying integrated sensor, monitoring, security and notification systems that can automatically lock school doors and alert public safety with real time gunshot caliber and location information, which can then be verified through video. Suspect photos could be distributed to prevent a gunman from leaving with evacuating students like what happened in Florida recently.
Imagine a smart school deploying fire and hazardous material sensors that can identify noxious gases, smoke and other hazardous materials and send alerts to occupants to evacuate and real time data to first responders to enhance situational awareness about what is going on before anyone picks up a phone.
Imagine a smart school deploying voice activated emergency notification sensors that detect vocal stress and immediately contact public safety to investigate the emergency.
Imagine a smart school deploying facial recognition technology that identifies at-risk, expelled or former students who have been flagged and immediately alerts authorities if they attempt to enter school property.
Imagine a smart school that is always connected with public safety and incorporates predictive analysis and artificial intelligence/machine learning to create real time alerts before an incident ever happens.
All of this technology is available today, but until the deployment of FirstNet, this unified mission critical LTE platform that enables public safety to access, share and leverage broadband data did not exist. Today it does.
These solutions are now being offered as a service with minimal or no capital expenditure required and an affordable monthly or annual usage cost. These “smart school” capabilities are becoming more affordable for public school systems, and in many cases may obviate any need for local bond referendums or other vehicles to raise substantial funds for large capital investments to purchase, maintain and upgrade these lifesaving wireless communications systems. With the increasing number of reported violent events at our schools, it is incumbent upon school administrators, local school boards, teachers, parents, and local communities to prioritize the funding and implementation of these new technologies in school budgets to ensure that every school becomes a “smart school.”
Our homes are smart. Our cars are smart. We need to make our schools smart too to protect our children and our future.