Preparedness

Facial Recognition Might Be Ready for Schools, but Are They Ready for It?

Some schools are beginning to test facial recognition software, especially after the Parkland, Fla., shooting.

by Jim McKay / July 25, 2018
Student survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are greeted as they arrive at a rally for gun control reform on the steps of the state capitol, in Tallahassee, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. AP/Gerald Herbert

Facial recognition is still a leading-edge technology that’s commercially ready and available for schools and school districts if they want to incorporate it as a layer of security.

And some are beginning to put it to the test, according to RealNetworks, a streaming media producer, which has developed facial recognition software that some schools are testing.

One school in Seattle has deployed it and others are testing it, according to Mike Vance, senior director of product management for RealNetworks, which has deployed its facial recognition software product at University Child Development School in Seattle, an elementary school of about 300 students.

The Seattle school uses the software as a way to identify who is entering the school, which has a gate around it and two entry points. Almost all faculty and parents, even the UPS guy, are registered in the system and, upon arriving at an entryway, are subject to a camera that either identifies them as someone registered or flags them as someone not registered. The school decided not to register its students because it’s kindergarten through fifth grade, and it wanted all students to be accompanied by an adult, Vance said. Attempts to contact the head of the school were unsuccessful.

There is a front gate, where faculty, parents or visitors are greeted by a locked door and a camera, which either recognizes them as someone in the system and lets them in or doesn’t recognize them and alerts an administrator.

The second entryway is near a playground where teachers can access the school grounds directly. To enter here, teachers must smile to match an expression that is registered in the system. This prevents someone from using a photo or iPhone to try to “fool” the system.

Vance said the software is 99.8 percent accurate as tested by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but of course, that depends on variables such as distance from the camera and quality of the camera.

Depending on the camera resolution and distance of the subject, the software can attain that 99.8 percent accuracy at between four and six feet, Vance said. He said better-quality cameras can recognize someone at 80 to 90 feet or more. The software is easy to set up and configure with an IP-based camera system sold in the last 10 to 20 years.

There are other schools testing the RealNetworks software, including a high school with about 400 students.

Vance said the system can be scaled to accommodate a larger school and can integrate with all cameras within a school. “If somebody tried to come in through a side door or somehow got through to an interior camera, [administrators] would know that someone is in the corridor that only students or faculty should be in,” he said. “Or it could flag certain individual as not being allowed in the school, a suspended student or someone who has made a credible threat.”

School safety consultant Kenneth Trump said that there is a “do something, do anything, do it fast, and do it differently” mentality after the Parkland, Fla., school shootings.

He said, in an email, the proposition of having facial recognition in schools raises a lot of questions, including: What would the criteria be to put someone in the system? Who will make those determinations? These are children, for the most part, so what legal implications are there for inputting juveniles’ information? How long will it be retained?”

“The pressures from parents and the media on school boards and superintendents lends itself to educators making knee-jerk reactions to install tangible, visible physical security measures that they can point to and say, ‘See, we did something new,’” he wrote.

He said he would much rather see investments in trained school resource officers interacting with kids and mental health services. “We also know that the No. 1 way to find out about weapons and plots is from kids and not from hardware.”