Local tech company adds additional security layer at Marion County Schools

FAIRMONT, W.Va. – The Marion County Board of Education has approved a plan to add facial recognition technology at facilities throughout the district.

A team including law enforcement, school officials and Morgantown-based Rank One Computing plan to implement the technology as soon as possible.

Donna Hage (File)

Morgantown-based Rank One Computing provides facial, object and text recognition algorithms to U.S. military, law enforcement and corporations and opened on the Morgantown WVU campus at Vantage Ventures in June. CEO and West Virginia native Scott Swann said they would use local organizations as a proving ground for their technology and Marion County schools are the first.

“How can we get some of this technology on the hands of locals and allow them to build their businesses around that and we thought schools were a great place to start,” Swann said.

Marion County Schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hage said the technology will be paired with the building safety audit program announced recently by Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Riffle. The audit will produce online images of all buildings that would be available to first responders in real-time if an emergency were to occur.

Hage also said recent events across the country have put them in a more proactive mindset.

“We developed this with experts in the field- the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, Marion County Department of Homeland Security and Rank One,” Dr. Hage said. “We are bringing together ideas and solutions to concerns our families, leaders, students and teachers are seeing unfold.”

Scott Swann

The technology will be installed on existing security equipment in buildings and will have access to worldwide information. Swann said it would be up to school officials to determine what databases would be used to cross check images.

“If someone might be on a wanted or warrant list were to try to enter a school, or someone who has caused a lot of problems or been expelled we can quickly call the right people,” Swann said.

Currently, school visitors are directed to the main office of a school where a sign in process occurs. School workers verify the ID and time of visit. By using facial recognition potential security risks can reported and thwarted before a suspect enters a building. The system can also be used at large-scale gatherings like sporting events.

“What was appealing to us about this technology is instead of that person entering the building and scanning a driver’s license this technology works proactively to review it before they’ve gained that entry point into our building.”

Facial recognition technology is progressing rapidly and used for everything from unlocking a phone, managing secure areas and in criminal investigations. The systems used can load facial images without anyone really knowing they are in operation then quickly act on the information if needed.

“It’s not obtrusive,” Dr. Hage said. “We’re not using metal detectors, but we’re getting that heightened sense of security and looking at the visitors that are coming to our schools and campuses.”

Rank One Computing currently has a staff of four operating from the Vantage Ventures office on the Morgantown WVU campus. Swann said there are plans to grow the staff to 10 by the end of the year. Swann the decision to establish the east coast headquarters of the business in West Virginia was supported by U S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore-Capito. Additionally, it places the company close to many important clients in Washington D.C., but puts their operation where talent is developed.

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