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Cameras, Sensors, Badges: School Security Tech Advances

Given the frequency of school shootings in the U.S., the number of companies and technologies offering security to K-12 districts is multiplying, offering different approaches to the same goal of saving lives.

School shootings continue to happen, with seemingly another incident being reported every time society is ready to move on from the last. Recently, communities in Oxford, Mich., and Uvalde, Texas, dealt with their own tragedies in November 2021 and May 2022, respectively. The trend has schools scrambling for answers, whether it be panic buttons or public information centers. And while some may insist that schools aren’t equipped to both teach and prevent these things from happening, the reality is that there is now a heightened importance to having functioning security systems on K-12 school campuses to keep students and staff members safe.

The options are growing. With systems from companies such as Go-to-Green in Texas and Centegix in Georgia, among a plethora of others, schools have the tools necessary to secure their respective campuses. For Go-to-Green, which was founded and is headed by former Seal Team Six, Army Ranger and Delta Force member Ernie Williams, their goal is to provide a path to safety in the event of an emergency – whether it be natural disaster or an active shooter. The company installs LED lights, a circuit board, cameras and microphones hooked up to sensor boards and syncs it with a gunshot detection software. In the simplest of terms, when an emergency situation arises, the lights either show a steady red color or blink green, with students and staff meant to follow the green lights to safety; a blinking red and blue light identifies where a shooter is located.
“Everybody's worried about the shooter. While he's important, more important is getting people to safety. So we're a pathway to safety,” Williams told Government Technology.

Within seconds of the sensors picking up a gunshot, law enforcement is informed of what the shooter looks like by way of the cameras; where the shooter is located, based on the sensors; a floor plan of the campus, provided in the installation process; the location of the shooter within that floor plan; and the location of the exits. The company has an operations center, manned by two off-duty or retired police officers, that also will physically or visually track the shooter through the cameras and will communicate with first responders as they approach to provide up-to-the-second location of the shooter, as well as the physical description, according to Williams, who said they have partnerships with schools in Texas, California, Arizona, Utah, Alabama and Florida.

While Go-to-Green has an approach that ushers students and staff toward paths to safety, Centegix works with badges that teachers can press for different levels of emergency events. The IoT platform is centered on these badges, worn on a lanyard, with a computer chip inside that each school district employee receives. The badge allows an employee to quickly and discreetly call for help without the aid of any additional device such as a phone or an app.

“The badge is kind of the cornerstone of our crisis alert platform,” Centegix CEO Brent Cobb told GovTech.

If a staff member clicks three times on a badge, that indicates a medical emergency, a need to address an unauthorized visitor or a physical altercation, among other minor events; eight or more clicks means a major incident, which triggers a campuswide alert. The company also sets up lighting devices, essentially strobe lights, mapped to a district protocol, with colors indicating the type of event, whether it’s a fire, or weather-related, or an active shooter. Then, through its cloud-based software, Centegix takes over the intercom system and computer screens to tell anyone in the school what they need to do in the moment, with text of the announcement displayed on computer screens. The software also connects directly to 911, turns on video cameras and engages two-way radios that school districts may have, Cobb said. All the tools at their disposal, Cobb said, “give the individuals who are calling for help, and really everyone at the campus, the best possible chance for a good outcome from a difficult situation.”

One school district, Pilot Point Independent School District in Texas, opted to partner with Go-to-Green for its security system. Chief of Police Brad Merritt said in an interview with Government Technology that the school district was eager to sync all its cameras onto one system.

“We had multiple different camera systems in different buildings, so this puts us all on the same system,” Cobb said. “If we do have that horrible incident, the cameras are one thing, but the lights on the sensors. … that's the pathway to safety. It's a huge game-changer.”

Despite the differences in philosophies, with the fledgling Go-to-Green looking to provide a pathway to safety to get students and staff away from danger, and the established Centegix providing quick access to notifying law enforcement for help, the purpose of school security systems is the same: keeping the school site safe from harm in the simplest way possible.

“I'm trying to change the paradigm,” Williams said, adding that he’s taking the guessing game out for the students and staff who are likely inexperienced in combat. “Everybody's looking at the shooter; I'm looking to get the non-shooters to safety. … The only shootout you're 100 percent guaranteed to win is the one you're not in.”

“It's literally the click of a button,” Cobb said of his device. “You just have to click a button when you're faced with the emergency and everything else is going to (automatically) happen without any (additional staff) involvement.”
Giovanni Albanese Jr. is a staff writer for the Center for Digital Education. He has covered business, politics, breaking news and professional soccer over his more than 15-year reporting career. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Salem State University in Massachusetts.