Earlier this month, K-12 and higher education administrators and community stakeholders met at HyperWerx to learn how schools are deploying SparkCognition Visual AI Advisor. They witnessed a series of live simulations and real-time demos showing how Visual AI Advisor layers into a school’s existing security cameras to proactively identify unknown persons and vehicles on campus, track their actions as they move inside and outside buildings, detect if they have a gun, and immediately notify authorities so they can initiate lockdowns.
Attendees later heard perspectives from representatives of two schools using Visual AI Advisor today—learning how the solution gives them the earliest warning to move students and employees to safety while providing law enforcement more time and information to respond to the situation.
Read on for insights from the first featured speaker, Travis Motal, Director of Secondary Education for Liberty Hill ISD.
Hardening, training, and response: “See the threat before it enters”
Motal introduced himself as a parent of two, married to a fellow educator, with 20 years in education as a director, principal, assistant principal, or classroom teacher. He earned a degree in criminal justice (specialization in law enforcement)—and was a park ranger before becoming a teacher—giving him a unique perspective on both public safety and school safety.
He explained that Liberty Hill ISD is considered a “fast growth district” in the Texas public school system, serving one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, with enrollment approaching 8000 students. It currently has one high school, two middle schools, and five elementary schools, with plans to expand in all categories over the next several years. He said that for his team, “school safety is always our priority, no matter how big or small the district is. But I think it’s a bit more heightened for us because we’re adding so many staff and students at such a fast pace. It’s about keeping everybody on the same page constantly.”
Motal described the school system’s top focus areas regarding school safety: hardening, training, and response. First, hardening means adding and reinforcing fences, barriers, bollards, barricades, putting security film on windows, locking doors, etc. Second, training on what to do during an emergency builds consistency and shared understanding, Motal said. A layered approach to define, teach, and practice a range of potential scenarios many times throughout the year empowers their students and staff with helpful information and skill-building. The saying repeated in his district is, “we can have all the written policies in the world we want, but if we don’t put them into practice, it really doesn’t matter what’s on paper.”
The third focus area—response—begins with the realistic admission that an actual, highly-dynamic event may require different actions than his students and staff have practiced before due to unforeseen circumstances. This is why Motal and his team believe in the value of empowerment. With training and hardening in place, the goal is to maximize response time windows and decision-making in a crisis.
Motal emphasized the “barrier of time” often in his remarks—i.e., buying as much time as possible through locked doors, active shooter drills, relationships with law enforcement, etc., “so when an emergency situation happens, we have the school hardened, have the training in place, have that empowerment . . . because all of those are creating time for first responders to get there.” In his view, anything that builds more time between the active shooter encountering students and staff is invaluable. He said the ability to “see the threat before it enters” was the motivating factor to partner with SparkCognition on using Visual AI Advisor for all of the reasons listed above.
“Always on task, always focused, and ready to inform us of potential threats and concerns”
Motal said he thinks of Visual AI Advisor as “an additional resource” for the school system rather than a one-to-one replacement of existing staff or safety procedures. What Visual AI Advisor brings to the table is unique and powerful in its indefatigable vigilance. “The human factor always comes back, right? No matter how great all of us are, we’re all human beings.” He continued: “We have to eat. We get sick. We take a break. We turn around. All these kinds of things happen . . . you know, very inconsequential and just normal human behavior. The great thing about [Visual AI Advisor] is it never does that, right? It is always on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter what the scenario.”
Motal expressed the value in knowing that Visual AI Advisor is “always on task, always focused, and ready to inform us of potential threats and concerns” and talked about taking advantage of it for use cases beyond active shooter detection. This includes monitoring “normal school things” like people falling in the parking lot, aggressive behavior, fighting, and even vaping. “Those are things we deal with every day no matter what’s going on,” he said, “these day-to-day things are going to be great for us to be able to see [emerging situations] before they even have to happen.”
After the audience listened to the perspective of Todd Peters, Adelson Educational Campus Head of School Safety, on leveraging Visual AI Advisor at a smaller, private school in Las Vegas, both Peters and Motal took the stage for a roundtable discussion.
Asked what the audience should take away from the day’s presentations and demos of how Visual AI Advisor works to improve school safety, Motal said, “Time and empowerment. I can’t stress those enough . . . it seems like everything we do comes back to that. How are we creating enough time for first responders to respond—whether it’s a medical emergency or some sort of active shooter—and the next part of it is empowerment because we cannot possibly game plan every situation that we’re going to face. But have we laid the foundation? Have we put training in place to where people feel empowered to keep themselves safe and do the right thing in the moment?”
Look for Todd Peters’ insights from the event in this space soon. You can learn more about Visual AI Advisor for School Safety here. Please contact us today if you would like to schedule an exploratory call.