Starting the new school year can be a time of great excitement. Time to meet new teachers and friends, reunite with classmates, don new backpacks, new shoes, and cool clothes. This excitement, on the part of teachers, administrators, and parents, is dampened with concerns about student safety. In the wake of Parkland and Santa Fe, many districts are increasing efforts to improve school safety. So how can AI and Protective Intelligence contribute?
Multi-Tiered Approach to School Safety
According to The National Center for Education Statistics, schools have already responded to a heightened awareness of violence by increasing security cameras, employing law enforcement officers, and providing more training for teachers and students. This year, proactive schools will be enhancing existing safety plans through multi-tiered approaches that not only look at physical security, but also include response protocols, research based best practices, and better alert systems and communication methods. Additional efforts may also include creating a positive school culture that decreases bullying, better support for student diversity, and expanding school wide prevention and intervention strategies focused on social and emotional wellness. Schools are even exploring how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can help improve safety.
Can AI and Protective Intelligence help keep our schools safe?
Artificial intelligence is becoming good at many “human” jobs; from diagnosing disease or translating languages to providing customer service and help desk support. AI and humans working together can perform these functions much better than either one alone. According to the Harvard Business Journal, “humans and AI actively enhance each other’s complementary strengths: the leadership, teamwork, creativity, and social skills of the former, and the speed, scalability, and quantitative capabilities of the latter (Daugherty, 2018).”
Companies like Ontic Technologies use AI assisted protective intelligence scanning to help identify potential risks. Security companies offering protective intelligence services have traditionally worked in corporate or even government environments. However, the rise in school shootings has created a need for these types of solutions in the K-12 market.
What is Protective Intelligence?
Protective intelligence is the process of gathering and assessing information about persons who may have the interest, motive, intention, and capability of mounting attacks against public officials and figures (Fein, 2000). Normally, this typically involves a target such as a CEO, or perhaps a celebrity or government leader. Security professionals use tools to identify potential threats and then perform follow-up investigations to further assess the situation. Appropriate agencies including law enforcement are notified in the event of imminent threat or harm. If no intervention is needed, the situation is monitored for future changes that could result violence or harm.
Role of AI
In schools, the potential targets are random, potentially involving large numbers of students. This type of ongoing, broad investigation offers substantial challenges for school officials. How do you look for potential threats among 3000+ students? Where do schools get those kind of resources? What can you do to eliminate false leads and only focus on the ones that matter? How do you establish connections between very different sources of information?
Artificial intelligence can sift through vast amounts of data much faster than humans. In doing so, AI can boost our analytic and decision-making abilities by providing the right information at the right time. According to the US Secret Service, “school officials need to be able to rapidly evaluate information that could warn of impending school violence and conduct threat assessments prior to a violent outburst in order for strategies to be put in place. (USSS, 2000)”
What might take weeks or months for people to do can be accomplished in moments with AI. Services like Ontic’s could provide much faster risk identification and alerts to schools and administrators.
So How Does It Work?
Protective intelligence technologies essentially comb through vast sources of publicly available data on the internet including social media, images, search results, public records, forums, blogs and more. (See OSINT Framework below for examples.) These results are fed into an AI technology that establishes relationships between data points and scans for potential risks. Alerts are set up based on those results and provided to appropriate individuals for follow up. Check out Ontic’s website to find out more. http://ontictechnologies.com
Beyond Protection – The Real Potential for Change
The USSS has identified common factors among individuals who commit school shootings including extreme feelings of anger and revenge, feelings of social alienation, and planning well in advance of the offense. Further, many do not plan to survive their own attacks and intend to commit suicide or to be killed by police. (USSS, 2000) While there seems to be heated debate about the relationship between mental illness and school violence (see L.A. Times and Time articles in the resources below), there should be consensus that feelings of extreme anger, social alienation, and suicidal ideation are indicators that emotional problems exist. Often these students go unnoticed and undetected in our schools (ASCD).
AI and protective intelligence technologies offer us so much more than just the ability to scan for threats. They give us expanded opportunity to identify students who may be suffering emotionally so that we can provide timely assistance. The focus can shift from identifying threats to helping children.
In a former school district, we used the safety management services from Gaggle’s machine learning technology to continually scan and monitor student emails, documents, shared files, images, and more. Campus administrators or designees were discretely given alerts and notification about potential student safety issues. We were completely upfront with parents and students about this feature in order to maintain trust. I was the primary administrator and district contact for this service.
Each semester we received a couple of alerts for students who expressed self-harm, emotional distress, or suicidal ideation. This information was passed on to the appropriate school counselor. In most of these situations, the student truly was experiencing significant emotional pain, and we were able to provide genuine assistance. Protective intelligence technology provided us the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of these students.
Not once were we alerted to any impending potential threat for school violence. I’m happy to report that as of the writing of this article, that school district has never experienced such an incident. By focusing on the social-emotional wellness of the students, hopefully it never will.
List of school shootings in the United States. (2018, August 19). Retrieved August 19, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States
Miller, C. (2018, August 05). Can Apple TV Help Keep Our Children Safe in School? Retrieved August 17, 2018, from http://edtechchris.com/2018/08/05/apple-tv-improves-school-safety-carousel/
Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. Retrieved August 18, 2018, from https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/preventingattacksreport.pdf