How Artificial Intelligence units are improving security in Roanoke schools – WSLS 10

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ROANOKE, Va. – Keeping kids safe—that’s one of the biggest concerns when parents send their kids off to school.

Roanoke City rolled out more than 25 safety measures totaling more than $4 million last school year (2022-2023) that included a new safety tip line, more secure classroom door locks and more school resource officers.

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One of the new safety measures is artificial intelligence. A.I. units are now being used for random security screenings or when school administration says it’s necessary.

10 News investigated how often these are actually being used and what they’re finding.

The AI units have been set up at Roanoke schools, football games, basketball games and graduation.

With these security screenings, you don’t have to take off coats or screen backpacks separately. The units are made by Evolv Technology, which says the weapons detection system, “combines powerful sensor technology with proven artificial intelligence (AI), security ecosystem integrations, and comprehensive venue analytics to ensure safer, more accurate threat detection at an unprecedented speed and volume.”

They screen for items that could be harmful to students, like weapons or other items that should not be brought into a school, such as toy weapons.

Evolv says it can screen up to 3,600 people per hour — 10 times faster than traditional metal detectors. The technology is also being used for large-scale sporting events in other states like Nissan Stadium and Bridgestone Arena in Tennessee.

The school system says they are used on a random basis or when the school administration deems it necessary.

When a person walks through, the lights turn red if something is found and a red box appears where that item is.

You can walk through with keys, a cell phone and headphones and no alerts go off.

In one example provided by Evolv, you see a person walk through with a gun in his hand and a pipe bomb in his backpack. Two red boxes appear showing where the weapons are. They can also turn up the sensitivity to find smaller things like pocketknives. That person can be pulled off to the side for more screening.

We’re breaking down how often they’ve been used in Roanoke City Public Schools.

School security officers and school resource officers were trained in October 2022 and they started using them in December.

The first time was at Patrick Henry High School for a basketball game against William Fleming on Dec. 6.

Then over the rest of the school year, the AI units were used twelve other times for school days, graduation practice and graduation.

Roanoke City Public Schools used the Evolv Weapon Detection Systems thirteen times over the 2022-23 school year (Copyright 2024 by WSLS 10 – All rights reserved.)

For the current school year, the units have been used 34 times from August through mid-April. (April 19, 2024)

  • At Patrick Henry High School on the first day of school
  • All William Fleming High School home football games and some home PH football games
  • When PH and Fleming played each other in basketball this year
  • School days at both high schools and the middle schools

Staff found vapes during screenings and one time a student threw a pocketknife into a trash can before walking through the unit.

Roanoke City Public Schools used the Evolv systems 34 times in the 2023-24 school year so far. (Copyright 2024 by WSLS 10 – All rights reserved.)

How much does this cost? RCPS tells 10 News it’s a four-year agreement that totals $255,522.

  • The school system paid $70,580 in the first year, which included initial setup, installation, and training costs. The lease agreement is for two sets. Each set has two lanes of detectors.
  • For the next three years of the lease agreement, $61,647 annually includes a lease of two Evolv Express Dual Lane Indoor Wireless Hardware Units and software and services for each plus an annual site inspection fee. The lease agreement began in September 2022.

RCPS also says it owns six walk-through metal detectors and 12 metal detecting wands, which the school division owned prior to these being approved.

10 News asked for an interview from Roanoke City Public Schools but was told, “We do not have anyone available for an interview; as we’re in the final weeks of school and with testing ongoing, schedules are a little tight right now.”

We also asked for a demo of the units but that request was denied and we were told that “would show information related to our safety procedures that we have to keep private.”

Evolv says on its website about 800 school buildings are using Evolv with about 600,000 school visitors screened daily.

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