Founder, Chief Innovation Officer
Former Buffalo Public Schools Principal
Publish dateMar 1, 2023
Backpacks and lunchboxes. Ballgowns and tuxedos. Foam fingers and rally caps. When we go to schools and events, we dress for the occasion and breathe the excitement in the air. We also want to feel safe, part of a community, and welcome – not singled out.
Whether it’s conscious or unconscious bias at work, we have all witnessed certain individuals being screened more closely while others breeze through security checks without a second glance. Helping to reduce the risk of bias and providing equity to all students and venue guests in the security process is a foundational building block of Evolv Technology’s AI-based weapons detection screening systems. It is part of what allows us to provide dignified screening as we advance our mission of making the world a safer place for people to gather.
To explore and explain what dignified screening in schools means, we sat down with Mike Ellenbogen, Evolv Technology co-founder and chief innovation officer, and Kevin Eberle, education advisor, retired school principal and former law enforcement officer.
Q. What is dignified screening?
Dignified screening is a free flow, non-invasive way to conduct security checks to make schools and venues safer in a welcoming manner. It means security without feeling invaded, targeted, or stressed by the weapons screening process.
When we set out to create Evolv Express, achieving more dignified screening was an important part of our innovation process, as we built the system to quickly and effectively single out objects, specifically guns and large knives, and not individuals. Along with treating everybody fairly, dignified screening fosters more daily interactions between students, teachers, and administrators because it creates an opportunity for an adult to personally welcome everyone in the student body each morning.
In fact, when students walk through an Evolv System, they often don’t notice. This is because the system is designed to blend with the school environment while the advanced AI screening reduces lines so that students do not always have to break stride. Unlike metal detectors that create lines and conditions that may stir anxiety, Evolv systems promote calm.
Q. Why is dignified screening crucial in a school setting?
Students already face a number of pressures and challenges. Their focus should be on learning, developing and building relationships. They shouldn’t be distracted with fear that a shooting may happen at school. And they shouldn’t feel that a safety screening is going to embarrass them in any way. For weapons screening to be effective and viewed as a safety ally, the systems need to be designed to recognize and accommodate the needs of the many different types of students that pass through them while being able to accurately and aptly identify safety threats.
In more than a few instances, students with reputations as troublemakers – due to rule-breaking behaviors yet not considered a threat to school safety – were surprised they weren’t stopped by the systems. They weren’t carrying anything that was a risk to safety but they were used to being viewed in a less than positive light. For these students, not being singled out worked wonders for morale and resulted in fewer disciplinary actions because they felt like they were seen as equals to their peers.
Q. What would be "undignified" about school security today?
Any process that detracts from students being able to learn, grow and make friends can fall into the category of undignified screening. This includes fostering an environment of fear and punishment, which can happen in a school’s approach to active shooter drills where students are taught to hide under their desks and pile up the furniture. It’s also undignified to use the type of metal detectors that are frequently seen at airports or prisons requiring students to remove certain items on their body, be scanned by a hand wand, or as we mentioned above, be singled out in a crowd without any practical reason or proof they are carrying a weapon.
You can also think it’s undignified to put too much responsibility on students to protect themselves from school shootings. Keeping students safe is the responsibility of the adults in the school along with local law enforcement and first responders.
One way to think about dignified screening is in the context of school fire drills. Students are taught what to do if there is a fire, but they’re not relied upon to prevent a fire. That’s the responsibility of adults and includes the selection of preventative technologies including alarms, sprinklers, and critical event management systems. The same principle applies to preventing gun violence where schools choose weapons detection screening systems as part of a layered approach to school safety.
Q. How does design play into creating a dignified screening approach?
The design of the Evolv systems creates a non-invasive solution without breaking the laws of physics. We had several prototypes that didn’t meet our criteria but through continuous testing and customer feedback we designed the archless columns and wide lanes that you see today. We also make it easy for customers to add their own graphics or an image of their school mascot so the systems become part of the environment and don’t look like an afterthought. We’re also consistently improving the AI threat detection for even faster throughput of students and guests without compromising safety or the user experience.
While we’ve talked about how the design enables people to walk through the systems without having to break stride, empty their pockets or be wanded, it also allows them to focus on what’s beyond the tech, which is the real reason they’re at school or at a public venue. Imagine going to a gala at Lincoln Center or the MoMA wearing a ball gown or tuxedo and having to wait in line outside and go through a prison-like metal detector as bags are opened and checked. Evolv systems are designed to provide a seamless, dignified entry so students and guests can walk into a venue and fully enjoy the experience.
Q. How does a dignified screening approach improve equality and decrease bias?
Dignified screening focuses on identifying whether a person is carrying an object that is a safety threat. This way, security responds to alerts instead of reacting to a perceived threat based on unconscious bias. By taking the focus off individuals and putting it on the objects a person is carrying, you can improve equality and decrease bias. In other words, the staff or guard responsible for working the Evolv Express system is not expected to make a judgement call as to who to search, because the system does it for them.
Manually checking every single individual is usually not possible, especially when you have a growing line at the entrance. In these instances, it’s been shown that guards frequently select individuals to search based on personal biases, or only pull aside only those carrying backpacks. Since the Evolv systems see the human body as a “bag of salt water” and are designed to identify objects, it doesn’t see factors that may influence singling a person out – gender, race, color, style of clothing, or religious affiliation – it removes bias from the screening process.
Q. In addition to schools, where else do you think we’ll see an increase in dignified screening?
We’re already seeing an increased demand for more dignified screening in cities and outdoor spaces hosting festivals, block parties, worship services, and annual celebrations including New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. For these events, Evolv systems conveniently blend in with the environment while keeping guns out to create safer and more fun experiences for everyone.