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Hempfield Area schools are waiting for money to upgrade their weapons detectors

The Hempfield Area School District is waiting to find out about money before making security improvements, officials said this week at a safety and security meeting.

The Hempfield Area School District is waiting to hear back about funding before moving ahead with security upgrades, officials said this week at a safety and security meeting.

The district has applied for $450,000 in funding through a competitive grant with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The funds would be used to support purchasing weapons detectors, most likely the Opengate weapons detectors tested at the district earlier this year, and would also facilitate upgrades to the schools’ emergency operating plan system.

School board members have not yet voted on purchasing the Opengate weapons detectors, a product of Ohio-based CEIA USA. The machines are walk-through weapons detectors that don’t require students to take off their backpacks. They were tested at the district in February.

“We did demo Opengate, and we felt like that was a solution that met our needs,” Interim Superintendent Kimberlie Rieffannacht said. “We are waiting for that (grant) notification. If we are awarded that, we can move pretty quickly to get those ordered and in place. If we are not awarded that grant, we would, of course, have to come back to the committee and board at large to talk about possible ways to finance this.”

A presentation to the board will likely be coming after funding is secured, she added.

District officials have been evaluating safety upgrades following two unrelated security incidents in October.

Three high school students were caught exchanging two loaded handguns on a bus and in a school bathroom, and a Wendover Middle School student was accused of posting threats on social media to bring in a bomb and “shoot up” the school.

After the incidents, the district formed the new safety committee, which has met multiple times.


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Discussion on camera tech

At the meeting, committee members listened to a presentation from Brett Handell, vice president of sales with ZeroEyes, a security camera software company. He presented on his company’s software, which can identify firearms on security camera feeds using AI and the help of human operators’ analysis at a command center.

Handell compared the technology to a license plate reader that would integrate with existing video cameras at the high school. He claimed it can detect over 300 types of guns, and has the ability to automatically notify law enforcement and district security if a gun is detected on the camera feed.

Other area districts who are using ZeroEyes include West Allegheny and South Side Area School District in Hookstown, according to Handell. The dataset used to identify weapons was assembled in-house, he added.

“We are not the end-all be-all to every type of shooting,” Handell noted. “Good security comes in layers. We are very much part of the proactive layer of security.”

Rieffannacht said there was no timeline for the district to make a decision on using ZeroEyes.

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