Florida Times-Union | By Emily Bloch | August 17, 2022
What’s one thing Disney World, Baptist Medical Center and Duval County Public Schools all have in common? They’ll soon be using the same type of weapons detection technology.
Tuesday, the Duval School Board unanimously approved a contract with Evolv Technology to purchase the company’s advanced security screening machines for high schools across the district. Officials say the purchase will make security screenings at schools faster and more accurate.
“This is about safety,” said School Board chairman Darryl Willie. “This is really important. It’s unfortunate we have to have these conversations, but in the world we live in now, it’s important to take every precaution we can to never look back on this and say ‘we could have done this,’ ‘we could have done more.'”
The new technology — which is also used in sports arenas, concert venues and casinos across the country — goes way beyond the old-school metal detectors. It uses artificial intelligence and sensor technology to quickly screen large groups of people without the need to empty pockets.
Duval Schools Police Chief Greg Burton said the new technology will help streamline how schools handle campus security screenings — which currently only happen immediately following a security threat because of the time and manpower they take to execute.
“Those searches are labor intensive. Some of those schools have up to seven different entrances, which means when those students come [and] we have to search them and their bags with the old metal detector,” Burton said. “Once they come in, they have to empty their pockets — they can have no metal. Searching them, their laptops, their backpacks, it’s very labor intensive and by the time we complete the search they are late for their classes, [and] somewhat troubled.”
What’s new about the Duval Schools screening systems?
Burton said that the new security screening system, which he said will be stationary and always on, will replace the sporadic metal detecting and wanding devices — which are rolled out as needed — with students walking through on a daily basis.
He added that the new system allows students to get to class “40 percent faster” than when using the old system and wanding device. The system’s technology will collect data and analytics to help the school district’s police department find security trends over time. The system can also update its software as new weapons hit the market to be up-to-date on what it is searching for.
Where is the money coming from?
According to public documents, the machines are being leased in an all-inclusive package that includes maintenance, service upkeep and repair for a total cost of $7 million. The payments are being split into four annual payments of $1.7 million. Once the lease is paid off in August of 2026, the school district will own the technology outright and enter a less expensive service agreement with Evolv Technology.
The total price represents securing the machines for all 23 of the school district’s high schools and alternative schools. The agreement does not cover charter schools.
Superintendent Diana Greene said the funding for the Evolv Technology contract will come from the district’s capital outlay budget. The district’s budget this year allocates nearly $472 million for capital outlay.
Greene said the school district’s existing metal detectors will be given to schools’ athletic departments to be used on football fields and in gymnasiums for larger sporting events.
It’s unclear exactly how many systems each school will get and how they will be deployed in coordination with a campus’ multiple entrances.
A district spokesperson told the Times-Union that an individual school’s lease includes 80-85 systems but that deployment plans will vary by school.
Will it make school safer?
School officials hope the new technology will make things safer, more efficient and normalize the message that students should never take weapons to campus since the machines are always on. Burton said discussions for updated security devices have been in talks for years, but the district looked at Evolv Technology and a competitor’s system back in February after being made aware that Baptist Health uses the same devices.
“Both [systems] worked as they were supposed to, but Evolv Technology has extra features. It identifies where an item is on a person’s body,” he said. “It helps give us a better idea of determining who has a weapon and where it is instead of having to then search them with a wand.”
Burton said that the new machinery takes guesswork out of the equation and makes things less personal.
“On the metal detectors, a young lady came through and we had to search her whole body and purse — which had personal items during that time. It was embarrassing for her and for me,” he said.
If a weapon is detected with the Evolv Technology machine, the system can pinpoint where it is on a person and will draw a box around that area on an image on a screen.
Now with the board’s approval, the district will go through a contracting and procurement process and finally, installation.
“Our hope is to have them ready in six months,” a spokesman told the Times-Union. “But that should be presented as a very flexible objective at this stage.”
Willie said he hopes the systems’ installation will bring parents some comfort that dangerous items won’t fall through the cracks.
“We’re at a heightened state, as a parent, as you look at the news,” Willie said. “We see a lot of organizations — it’s becoming a lot more commonplace. It also brings some peace of mind too.”