Rancocas Valley tests AI technology to secure school
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Weapon detection software made by former U.S. Navy SEALs could reduce the chance of a school shooting. Rancocas Valley Regional High School tested it out.
MOUNT HOLLY — A school shooting could start and end within just five minutes, and it might take first responders the same amount of time or more to arrive at the scene.
But now, a software company made up of former U.S. Navy SEALs in Philadelphia has been teaming up with area schools to test out weapon detection technology that could possibly recognize a weapon before it even gets indoors, and notify the school and police right away. Rancocas Valley Regional High School held an active shooter drill using the technology Thursday afternoon.
ZeroEyes, which specializes in weapon detection software, uses video analytics and existing security cameras to detect possible weapons.
It’s not the only weapons detection company in the area, but its team’s military experience sets it apart, said Rob Huberty, chief operating officer.
“I think it allows us to know the tactics of what a first responder really needs,” Huberty said. “I understand how scared you can be in situations where your life is on the line, and I want to give only the information that matters.”
Rancocas Valley in Mount Holly has been running ZeroEyes technology as part of a pilot program. The company has also been in talks with districts across the country who are interested in the software.
“This product will add another layer of security for us as educators,” Superintendent Christopher Heilig said. “It’s an unbelievable product. In the end, the more you have, the better off you are and the more secure students are.”
The goal in implementing ZeroEyes’ software is to help police get to a shooter faster and allow students to move away from where the shooter is headed. If the weapon is detected before the shooter gets in, the school can lock the doors before a shot is even fired.
In Wednesday’s drill, Mike Lahiff, the co-founder and chief executive officer of ZeroEyes, entered the high school from the main entrance and made his way through the hallway with a fake assault rifle. School administrators and local police watched the scene unfold from a conference room on a TV screen showing camera footage and a blueprint of the school.
As each security camera detects the shooter, another alert goes out, and police can easily track the shooter’s path through the school.
As the first security camera caught Lahiff passing by, a dispatch went out to Mount Holly police, and a text message notification went to school officials’ phones almost immediately.
In addition to ZeroEyes, the district has added other safety measures in recent years. The school added a full-time resource officer from the police department, installed strobe lights, set up a radio system to contact security and police, and invested in a mobile app that lets administrators lock down all campus doors with the push of a button.
“They (ZeroEyes) could do this program with any organization, but they chose to do it with schools, and I appreciate that,” Heilig said.
Huberty feels a personal connection to working with schools. His wife is a teacher. He grew up near Newtown, Connecticut, where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened in 2012, and he went to college in Arizona, where some of his classmates were survivors of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.
“Everywhere I went, I thought, this is terrible,” he said. “Everybody’s affected by it. It’s difficult to solve. I can’t solve the psychological part, but if we use technology in an inobtrusive way — we’re not using this data for anything else — I think it’ll help.”
Heilig said the partnership is helpful for school officials who want to boost school security, but don’t have all the answers.
“It helps us,” Heilig said. “We’re educators that now, over the past two decades, have made safety and security a first priority over the last two decades. That’s just the way things have become. So as teachers, we appreciate having them as the experts.”