A+ in safety

Houston-area school district to install first-of-its-kind safety technology

The Aldine Independent School District is the first to employ a new technology focused on campus safety. Educational First Steps/Facebook

Insight Enterprises has announced a collaboration with the city of Houston, Microsoft, and BeSafe to bring the ActiveShield concept to two Houston-area schools this summer. Aldine Independent School District was selected to be the first school district in the nation to implement an IoT platform like this, a representative says.

Safe Spaces a group of tools developed by Tempe, Arizona-based Insight, a Fortune 500 global systems integrator. The safety technology focuses on emergency situations, such as sound sensors, color-coded LED lighting, and real-time information sharing that can notify first responders with pertinent information as soon as possible.

"Knowledge is power, and our mission is to save lives by providing the right information to the right people at the right time," says Kevin Harrington, CEO of BeSafe Technologies, in a release. "What we see with Insight Safe Spaces is the ability to use IoT to build on our core capabilities to further improve public safety. This creates a communication hub that instantly connects on-site security with police, fire and other emergency responders, as well as building occupants."

The schools will be equipped with several of Safe Spaces' technologies, such as:

  • Cameras, sound and motion sensors, etc. that capture data that is then integrated with third-party security systems. (This allows for real-time information sharing and emergency response.)
  • Panic buttons for teachers or staff.
  • Color-coded smart lights that automatically warn of an emergency and indicate how close you are to danger or the school's safe zones.
  • Real-time communication to on-site security and emergency services, with different alerts or action plans based on the information being shared with the central system.
  • Direct lines of communication for people involved in the crisis via a navigation-based mobile app to provide updates and safety instructions in real time.

Together, Insight Safe Spaces and Microsoft Azure IoT solution accelerators combine technological forces to enable Raleigh, North Carolina-based BeSafe to open "new doors to enhanced public safety," says Stan Lequin, vice president and general manager, Insight Digital Innovation, in the release.

"Insight is helping BeSafe expand its foundation of advanced building information technology, transforming these capabilities into interactive action plans that give emergency responders a critical advantage when every second saved potentially means a life saved," Lequin adds.

BeSafe was founded in 1999 to enhance safety in schools by providing emergency response teams advance information about the school's layout, emergency exits, and more. Now, with the new age of technology, the organization is expanding its horizons, and AISD is the first to implement the collaboration of this technology.

"Student and staff safety are a top priority. The partnership with the city of Houston and Microsoft will take our efforts to the next level," says AISD's superintendent of schools, LaTonya M. Goffney, in the release.

The inaugural Smart Cities accelerator in Houston will have its cohort create solutions for a set of problems the city faces. Sky Noir Photography by Bill Dickinson/Getty Images

At a Microsoft IoT in Action event in April, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the city would launch the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator — a program that would task a set of startups and entrepreneurs with creating digital and technical solutions to key problems within Houston.

"As a result of incorporating smart technologies, Houston will have the ability to create a more resilient and mobile-friendly city, and in turn accelerate our city's economic growth and prepare for the needs of 21st Century citizens," Mayor Turner says in a release.

While there's still a lot to finalize within this new program before the first cohort begins in September, here are the five things you need to know about the accelerator.

It's an effort from multiple parties.  

There are several major players behind the initiative. Station Houston will host the accelerator — first in its current headquarters and then later from The Ion when it opens in 2020. Station will also team up with TX/RX, a nonprofit makerspace in East Downtown, to be a resource for engineering and design elements.

Microsoft and Intel are backing the program — both monetarily and various other support roles.

"For me, having been doing this for a few years now, it's such a huge step for the city," Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, tells InnovationMap. "We are not only talking about major companies in the world of technology to make a significant investment in our startup community, but that investment that they are making is in our city as well. That is not to be underestimated."

The first cohort's goals will be to find solutions within mobility and resilience. 

Key stakeholders within the program identified mobility and resilience as the two focus points the first cohort will work within. Currently, the stakeholders are again narrowing down the topics to identify 10 problems within mobility and resilience, which the cohort will then be tasked with solving.

The accelerator, which is currently set up to have one cohort a year, Rowe says, will then identify other various issues within Houston in subsequent cohorts.

"There will be, what seems at this point, an endless array of challenges the entrepreneurs in the accelerator can address," Rowe says.

Should the opportunity arise, Rowe says, the organization could also launch a concurrent cohort in six months, rather than waiting until next year.

The cohort will come from across the country. 

Once the list of 10 problems to solve has been finalized, the organization will go on a national search to find the cohort.

"Of course we hope we will be able to find some fabulous companies here at home, but we are also hoping we are enabling companies from around the rest of the United States to discover Houston," Rowe says.

A selection committee made up of stakeholders from all the participating organizations will evaluate the applications and selections.

"We not only want to be sure we are bringing in geographic diversity, but we also want to bring in industry diversity because that will allow challenging perspectives when problem solving," says Rowe.

A key part of this process is getting the word out about the program. Station hosted a launch event on May 30 to introduce the program to Houston.

"We can only be successful as the companies we can attract to be a part of the accelerator," Rowe says.

How it will work.

The 10-month program will have 10 startups per cohort, and the programming will be broken down into three phases. The first three months will be a time of discovery and ideating with a structured curriculum designed around mobility and resiliency. Next, the startups will prototype and validate their products. The second half of the accelerator will be pilot programs within the city of Houston.

The ultimate goal is to better Houston as a whole.

The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator is different than anything else Houston has to offer, Rowe says, mainly because its primary goal is creating solutions for some of Houston's biggest problems.

"We now finally for Houston to take the advancements we've made in innovation — especially in tech — and bring it into the lives of everyone," Rowe says. "It's wonderful in so many ways, but it puts a tremendous amount of responsibility on our shoulders to make sure we are doing this with the communities of Houston as opposed to doing it to the communities of Houston."