(NewsNation) — School safety remains a top concern for parents across the country, and one district in Tennessee is turning to a high-tech solution.
The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) will be piloting an artificial intelligence (AI) weapons detection system at two high schools starting this school year.
A version of the system, developed by security firm Evolv Technology, has previously been deployed in places like sporting arenas to screen visitors for weapons.
Unlike conventional metal detector technology, these systems typically don’t involve students having to empty their bags. Instead, it uses sensors to detect objects that could be in the shape of a weapon.
“It scans for items that may be dense. Like rifle barrels, pocketknives it can pick up, dense items that a person may have in their person or their backpack. They don’t have to be brandished,” said Montgomery County Sheriff John Fuson last May, while urging the county commission to approve putting them in schools.
It’s a technology many students may be familiar with if they are sports fans. The Tennessee Titans and Nashville Soccer Club both utilize these security monitors in their stadiums, district officials said.
NewsNation conducted an e-mail interview with Anthony Johnson, Chief Communications Officer for the school system, about why they’re turning to the new system. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
NewsNation: How does the weapons detection system work, how does it differ from metal detectors?
Johnson: Unlike metal detectors, manual bag checks, wanding, and other traditional solutions, Evolv offers an innovative and accelerated approach to physical security screening and weapons detection through enhanced sensors and artificial intelligence.
NewsNation: Do you feel this system might be less intrusive than metal detectors?
Johnson: Yes, as Evolv states, “Evolv Express accelerates physical security screening while maintaining the highest degree of weapons detection accuracy. It eliminates the friction that visitors, fans, patrons, employees and students typically experience moving through security by screening them in a touchless manner. This helps reduce the security risk of crowded security lines. It also drastically reduces human errors by security guards.”
NewsNation: Who is in charge of monitoring the system, school resource officers?
Johnson: The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office has provided additional SRO staffing to assist with the Evolv pilot program throughout the entire school day. Additionally, school-based staff assist with monitoring the equipment while greeting students in the morning. With the setup for the pilot at Northwest High School, it takes around 6-8 staff to assist with the flow of traffic and monitor the equipment.
NewsNation: What feedback have you gotten from the community and students so far?
Johnson: Thus far, the feedback has been positive. The community has conveyed appreciation for the partnership between the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System to seek proactive ways to increase the layers of safety and security in our schools.
Initially, there were concerns about the technology, such as what information it was collecting on students and harm from the radio waves. However, Evolv has provided many resources for the school system to share with families to ease concerns.
NewsNation: Was buying the system for schools costly?
Johnson: The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office purchased the Evolv Express technology at a cost of around $200,000 for a dual-lane unit.
NewsNation: What advice would you have for other school districts that might be thinking about how to keep their students safe?
Johnson: Over several months, a team from CMCSS and MCSO conducted a metal detector feasibility study. The team studied the research and best practices; types of metal detectors and new technologies; practices of other school districts; and the costs and logistics for implementing metal detectors.
After considering the research; stakeholder and public perceptions; practices of other school districts; and costs and logistics, the team recommended that traditional metal detectors would not be feasible for CMCSS. However, through this process, the team identified cutting-edge technologies and new practices that have been recommended as opportunities to improve safety and security in our schools.
The team visited other school systems using Evolv, had several conversations with the Evolv vendor, and spent time planning the pilot. I would recommend that any school system looking to expand their layers of security take the time to study the technology and reach out to Evolv to see how the technology might benefit their schools.