Episode 21 – School Vaping and Bullying have a Technology Solution!

Connection
Connection

In this episode of TechSperience, our host Penny Conway is joined by Michael Henson, Dir. National Partner Accounts, Ruckus Sales at CommScope to talk about vaping and bullying in K12 and although this is not an IT problem, it can be solved with an IT solution.  

In recent weeks the CDC reported 13 deaths and over 800 illnesses directly related to vaping. It was also reported that vaping by teenagers has breached over 3.6M as of November 2018, up from 1.5M from 2017.  The National Institute of Health on Drug Abuse reports that vaping in High School impacts an average of nearly 2 in 5 students. 

Learn how technology and a Ruckus-Soter solution can help schools combat this horrible epidemic.

Listen to more TechSperience podcasts.

This is a transcription of the TechSperience podcast – Episode 21

Penny Conway:

Welcome to another episode of Connection TechSperience. I’m your host, Penny Conway, Senior Program Manager for Workplace Transformation and today we’re talking about the hot topic slash epidemic of vaping in K through 12 schools. Interestingly enough, vaping has gone from 1.5 million high school users in 2017, all the way up to 3.6 million users as of November 2018. Today we have Mike Henson from Ruckus who is going to be talking about the solutions available for schools to start seeing where vaping might be occurring, where they don’t have eyes today. Why don’t you give us a little bit of your background, why you’re here and why you are an expert on the topic of vaping and some solutions around it.

Mike Henson:

I don’t know if I’m an expert on vaping, because I’ve never smoked, I don’t vape and so, anyway I just watch a lot of news. But I’m an industry veteran of this IT industry for over 33 years. I’ve worked at various companies throughout IT from local area networks to, you know, to where we are today.

And, one of the areas that Ruckus has really latched onto are the two areas around vaping. Number one, because you know, it’s a very new and unknown technology that is being used to, you know, help people to get off cigarettes number one, but number two, it is also a technology that is basically not detectable by normal smoke detectors, where people live… you know airplanes, bathrooms and things like that where you’re not supposed to smoke, can’t be detected. So, a lot of kids are doing it. A lot of adults are doing it, but the one thing that surprises everybody is that nobody really knows why these 800 illnesses are infecting people.

So, vaping has a lot of unknowns that are just now starting to bubble up and the problem is the acceptance of vaping has taken… you know, it’s just like wildfire. People are moving from cigarettes or basically, a lot of the kids are just starting to vape and never smoked before. You know with the epidemic going on, I mean, people are dying. People are getting sick. Nobody knows why, and one of the things that we’re seeing is that we’re doing from a legislation perspective is they’re banning or minimizing the flavored oils. But, they don’t even know if that’s really the problem.

Penny Conway:

So let’s set the primer a little bit because I think there’s a lot of different terms out there in the industry around vaping. We have the e-cigarette, we have vaping, we hear Juul, we hear this… so, what’s kind of the difference between an e-cigarette and vaping. Or, is there a difference?

Mike Henson:

Well, it’s kind of like the evolution of technology. You know, we started out with cigarettes that were rolled in wrappers and then smoked. And, then they put a filter on it and then they added, you know, menthol to it to give it a different flavor. You know, e-cigarettes came out, you know, with the sole purpose of trying to give people the ability to smoke without being overly intrusive in terms of the smoke itself. And then from there, it still used tobacco and you know, the traditional non-water based vaping technologies or aerosol technologies. So, vaping came through a number of different technologies and it originated in a different industry. But it quickly became apparent that it was an easier technology to build. The batteries and things that keep it or make it work, evolved very quickly. And so therefore, vaping is pretty much the predominant technology.

You know we hear different things. There’s different types of form factors. I mean, Juul looks like a USB port you know there’s Blu, there’s a number of different companies out there that make vaping tools. And unfortunately, they all look, feel, you know look like they could fit in a kid’s backpack. You know, these kid’s backpacks have got specific spots for USB ports. Well, you could slide a Juul right into that spot. You know it could be, it-it’s just one of those things that the technology has evolved over time.

Penny Conway:

Right.

Mike Henson:

So.

Penny Conway:

I mean it was, we’ve had obviously generations of smoking and we saw really the fall of the tobacco industry when advertising was pulled. You know, appealing to kids with smoking that it was cool to smoke and there was sort of all of those apparent dangers that we knew with tobacco and I remember when, you know, everyone was, you know restaurants stopped allowing people to smoke. You couldn’t smoke outside your office anymore and the e-cigarette started to make its way out and everyone was thinking, “Oh, this is a safer solution for me to smoke and it’s less obtrusive in a public area.”

But, to your point, we don’t really know what the dangers are within vaping and now we’re starting to see all of these illnesses and deaths associated with it and legislations trying to keep up with it. But what are schools, what are you seeing in schools trying to, sort of, combat this? Because I, as a teenager once, and Mike if you were a teenager once, one of the things about being a teenager is you like to do things you’re not supposed to do and your very good at hiding things that you’re not supposed to do. So how are kids even getting away with this, in schools?

Mike Henson:

Well, if you think back, smoking in general relies on ignition of tobacco. That creates smoke. Smoke, you know permeates your clothes, it’s a lot easier to detect. Vaping, on the other hand, uses water vapor and oils- scented oils, or nicotine oils or unfortunately, marijuana laced THC. People are starting to manufacture their own oils as well. And so, when you start doing that, first of all, smoke is used in smoke detectors to detect. And vaping, because it is basically an aerosol and it’s water for the most part, smoke detectors don’t pick that up. As we go through today’s podcast, we’ll talk about the fact that we partnered with Soter as one of the industry leaders in vaping detection and if you understand how the vape detection works, it actually works to detect the chemicals that are in the oils.

Penny Conway:

Oh, interesting.

Mike Henson:

Not the vape. It does detect the humidity in aerosol, but it detects the chemicals that are in the oils that are expressed. And so, you know from that perspective when you start thinking about it, you talked about in the old days, airplanes you can’t smoke on airline. Right?

Penny Conway:

Right.

Mike Henson:

Well, they moved people to the back of the airplane to contain the smoke in the back of the airplane for a while, then they just banned it altogether. Now they, you know it’s an FAA rule and regulation. Well, guess what? You can’t detect vaping there. Hotels, multi-dwelling units, apartment condos, things like that that are non-smoking environments you can’t detect vaping with normal smoke detectors so, therefore, people are getting around smoking in non-smoking type of environments by using vape.

Penny Conway:

Interesting. Yeah, there’s no… there’s no new technology to pick up the behavior that we’re now trying to stop. Why are… why are kids… I was reading a couple of stats last night that were saying that you know smoking obviously was hugely prevalent among teens for all of eternity because it was quote unquote cool. Or it was the bad guy thing to do. But, people, kids are actually vaping at a higher rate than they were smoking at any point. I think one stat was like nine percent of twelfth graders were using cigarettes by the time they graduated, but 13 percent are vaping. So, what’s more appealing about the vaping versus the traditional cigarette?

Mike Henson:

I would argue that the biggest draw to it is the flavored oils. When you had a cigarette, it was pretty much one flavor. In the world of vaping, again, it’s water vapor, oil, you know, that is turned into an aerosol and it can effectively be any flavor you want it to be. The other thing too is smoking, if you’ve ever smoked before, you know that when you light a cigarette, you’re inhaling the smoke from a burning tobacco leaf. You’re not doing that with aerosol. You’re using batteries, they’re doing ignition, then they’re turning that vapor, and excuse me the water into vapor very, very quickly, so it’s much easier for somebody to start to vape, than it is to enjoy their first cigarette.

Penny Conway:

So, schools are trying to combat this sort of every other way, maybe, except for introducing a new technology, a new type of vape detector versus smoke detector. Did I read right that some schools have actually tried to take stalls off the bathroom doors?

Mike Henson:

Well, it would be the reverse, you take the door off the stall.

Penny Conway:

(Laughing). The door off the stall. It is early in the morning. (Laughs).

Mike Henson:

That’s okay.

Penny Conway:

I dared to kill a king’s deer.

Mike Henson:

That’s exactly right. Well, I mean, I’m from the great state of Alabama if you can’t tell from my accent. In Alabama, one of the northwestern schools literally took all the doors off all the stalls in all the bathrooms so that nobody could stand behind the door, you know, and vape.

Mike Henson:

And so you- you’ve got that going on, you know I was at ISTE, which is the national, you know, technology coordinators meeting in Philadelphia, I don’t know, three or four months ago, and the biggest topic of concern was bullying and vaping. And so, we actually had a No Vape hashtag going on during that period of time and we were evangelizing. And every school system from the East Coast, West Coast, whoever was there when they saw the No Vape wanted to know what in the world are you guys doing?

There’s only a couple of companies in the world right now that are making vaping centers and Soter is one of our alliance partners and where we’ve actually done some joint development to make sure that the compatibility is there, the power of ethernet capabilities, the you know, the opportunity to make a solution viable. You know one of the things that allows the vaping center to work and be effective is that you can put it anywhere you can’t put a camera. You can’t put a camera-

Penny Conway:

-ah.

Mike Henson:

-in the locker room, you can’t put a camera in a bathroom. I can put a camera outside the door of the bathroom.

Penny Conway:

Yeah.

Mike Henson:

I can put a camera outside the door of the locker room, so now the key is and we talked about the Internet of Things a few seconds ago or at the introduction, this is now an Internet of Things solution. Right?

Penny Conway:

Right.

Mike Henson:

So now we can put vaping centers in areas, stairwells, locker rooms, bathrooms, teacher lounges- because believe it or not, students aren’t the only ones vaping that the schools are trying to deter.

Penny Conway:

Interesting.

Mike Henson:

Oh yeah. And adults can vape just about one of anything whether it be nicotine, marijuana, or flavored. You know, so-

Penny Conway:

Right.

Mike Henson:

You don’t know what’s going on in schools until you start trying to detect it. So, you know I think that’s one of the biggest things is being able to understand that this vaping center allows you to, you don’t necessarily have to act on it, but knowing that it’s occurring and when it’s occurring is the first step. And up until the time that Soter, you know, basically came on the market, there was no way to do it. You had to physically put a teacher in a locker room or a teacher at the door of the bathroom or you know basically use physical means to try to detect and find-

Penny Conway:

-babysitting. The old term. (Laughs).

Mike Henson:

Yeah.

Penny Conway:

The old term we refer to as baby sitting.

Mike Henson:

And if you’re smart and you’re a sales guy that’s a total cost of ownership and-

Penny Conway:

-oh absolutely, yeah. You need to have a teacher follow everyone to the bathroom.

Mike Henson:

The human capital.

Penny Conway:

That makes no sense.

Mike Henson:

Yep. The cost of human capital.

Penny Conway:

So, they’re really, the schools are using their security cameras in those public spaces to kind of catch the maybe overly apparent, but like we said kids are secretive, they like to hide things.

Mike Henson:

Yep.

Penny Conway:

Teachers are secretive, they like to hide things. So being able to put a sensor in a place where you can’t have that camera is really adding that extra layer that keeps them from having a babysitter at every door.

Mike Henson:

That’s exactly right.

Penny Conway:

Because it’s the other thing, I don’t think you can actually have and this is maybe a well-known thing, I don’t think you can have teachers like go into the bathroom with students, can you?

Mike Henson:

It depends on the state and the state regulations.

Penny Conway:

Yeah.

Mike Henson:

But there are in some states some very restrictive legislation that prevents adults in being in the same rooms like locker rooms-

Penny Conway:

Right.

Mike Henson:

-where kids are. Yeah.

Penny Conway:

Exactly. So, you had hinted that there is a component of bullying to this too, not a component of bullying, but identifying bullying. So, if the sensors are picking up more of that aerosol in the air, that water vapor, how does it also have the capability to detect bullying? Because that’s probably as dangerous to our health as vaping but bullying, we know is a huge issue in schools and has been for years.

Mike Henson:

Yeah that’s a good question. So, the FlySense center from Soter actually has multiple sensors in it. Okay? And one of the things about bullying, or at least audio sensors, is that when we were talking about adults being restricted from being in certain areas-

Penny Conway:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Henson:

-with the youth, you also have privacy rules and regulations. And so, the sensors actually do not record voice. What they do is they build over time through software analytics, normalized volumes. So, it can detect the difference between a bell ringing, it can detect the difference of a door slamming or a door shutting, from an elevated ambient noise where kids could be pushing, shoving, yelling you know at each other, kind of thing.

Penny Conway:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Henson:

So, it’s a, it’s not quite an exact science, but the anti-bullying allows for the detection of elevated ambient noise over a sustained period of time that is then learned over a longer period of time. So, it will set off now, you know, the anti-bullying and the anti-vaping sensors are all in one. They’re a small sensor about the size of a wall outlet, about two inches wide and four inches tall.

Penny Conway:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Henson:

So, it’s a very low-profile device, but being a multi-sensor technology, it allows you to do both on one platform.

Penny Conway:

So, what kind of notification does a school get? You’ve got a kid in the bathroom vaping, you’ve got a kid in the hallway that’s getting beat up by a few other kids, who’s getting the notification? What’s that system look like so they can actually take action on it.

Mike Henson:

Yeah. It’s actually a very nice… it’s a cloud-based management system and Soter basically… when the sales reps here are looking at an opportunity… let me just go ahead and put this out there, we’ve actually put together two starter kits. One with four sensors and an ethernet switch that includes three years of support and service, but it also includes the three years of network management solution that comes along with the licensed sensors. So, from a, you know, web browser basically, anybody can manage or to report and it generates emails or triggers, actually, it’s more than just email. The sensor can trigger an IoT automation device so we can actually integrate with an access camera system or something and actually do some tilt, pan and zoom, commands. We can also send emails and stills to the SRO’s, the student resource officers or to the principals in administration, counselors, etc.

But, there’s a number of things you can do with it, but the license sensor itself is managed via cloud and there’s basically two dashboards. One that manages the- each one of the sensors. One for the anti-vaping and then one dashboard for the anti-bullying. Not to try to make this too difficult or too challenging, but there are different rule sets, in other words, vaping is pretty much an off or on kind of scenario where anti-bullying is a learned-

Penny Conway:

Right, it’s got, yeah, it’s gotta understand the existing environment, like be there for a while before it-

Mike Henson:

-you’ll have false positives-

Penny Conway:

-yeah.

Mike Henson:

-out of the gate.

Penny Conway:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Mike Henson:

I mean so there’s some tuning and some you know management around it. So, the network management team can certainly set it up, monitor it on a regular basis and then the emails and the alerts can be sent and generated, and you know dealt with independently.

Penny Conway:

So, have you seen with schools that have sort of started to put this in as practice, have you seen it sort of roll into their general policies. Like, I know there is a lot of policies around vaping, like the first time you get caught you know you get an in-school detention. The second time you’re now seeing a counselor and then the third time you’re facing a-an expulsion. Are you seeing this kind of help schools guide their policies or reinforce their policies?

Mike Henson:

Well, much like you guys, I’m a national kind of guy, I cover from East Coast to West Coast and I will tell you that the policies vary, I mean widely.

Penny Conway:

Yeah.

Mike Henson:

There are, I’ve seen zero tolerance policies in place, I’ve also seen some very forgiving policies as well. You know from my perspective, I’m not sure that it is from an IT perspective, you know, you do see those things and you do see the implications of those things, this is a set of tools that allow the school system to make their own decisions to whatever level they want to. It is a non-intrusive technology. It’s there, it alerts and detects, and you know provides information. And from that perspective, I think it is really up to the school system to make the decisions.

It is far less costly to deploy 25, 50, 100 sensors than it is to try to take that human capital that we talked about earlier, counselors and teachers, and try to position them out there. You know, one of the things that I, you know, I laugh about in this industry is, people deterred the use of cameras in schools because it created a liability. Once you put one camera in, you better have a camera that covers every square inch, otherwise you have a liability.

Penny Conway:

Yeah.

Mike Henson:

And that’s unfortunate that that’s the society we live in today, but vaping and anti-bullying are just supplemental. You know, I can start off small, I can start off in the bathrooms or the locker rooms, I can start off in the hallways or the stairwells. And then as the need progresses, you can continue to deploy more. Vaping is not going to go away.

Penny Conway:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Henson:

There is a lot of legislation to stop certain things, whether it just be the flavored oils, or you know, ironically, Juul just hired one of the former CEO’s of a tobacco industry-

Penny Conway:

-interesting. (Laughing).

Mike Henson:

Who was very successful at deterring a lot of the civil lawsuits against the tobacco industry. And I’m not saying it in a good way or a bad way, I’m just saying it’s very interesting. Vaping is not going to go away. It’s going to be around. They’re going to figure out what’s causing the problems, but yet, it’s like smoking in schools, you know it’s not that they were doing it because it was bad for you, it’s because you’re not supposed to do it. And so, the school systems can either choose to have a smoke pit between the lunch room and the library and allow people to do it there. Or they can allow, you know, or they can prevent it from being done where other people could be affected by it, i.e. bathrooms, locker rooms, hallways-

Penny Conway:

-Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Henson:

-things like that.

Penny Conway:

You know one thing I had thought of, because you know you said schools are looking to monitor what teachers are doing. Of course, like teachers or schools don’t really care if a teacher is going out and vaping normal vape juice like you know they would a smoke break, maybe? But, it’s potentially, maybe they’re smoking THC and other things and then going in and teaching into a classroom. And so, I’m trying to think of, you know, when a school is looking into how to approach this from a budgetary standpoint, where do you see it sort of originating? Do you see it like in a maybe a personnel, like a need to manage personnel, are you seeing it as a security sort of budget item? Or an overall general IT budget item?

Mike Henson:

(Laughs).

Penny Conway:

Just curious ’cause schools sometimes, you never know like where the request is gonna originate from. If it comes from a principal saying, “My teachers might have an issue and my students obviously have this issue as well.” Or it could be IT going, “We don’t have visibility in bathrooms and hallways.”

Mike Henson:

This is one of those applications that roll downhill. All right? So, number one, as soon as you have an illness or a death or you know these things can explode because they use ion lithium batteries, I mean, when they get hot, they explode.

Penny Conway:

Yep.

Mike Henson:

So when you have an incident in a school, that’s a compelling event, from a sales lingo term, that really drives the principal and administration to come down with a big whack-a-mole hammer and say, “IT, why haven’t you fixed this problem?”

So, I would argue that if I were a salesperson and I were trying to look for opportunities, I’d turn on the local news. I mean, literally, if I’m in here, in New Hampshire, and I cover California, I’d have the local news stations on my news feed on my browser, on my desktop. And I would be looking for these scenarios. Because nine times out of ten, this is not going… I mean, it’s like security was ten years ago-

Penny Conway:

Right.

Mike Henson:

-it’s not going to be budgeted you know and the CIO or the security officer could be an HR guy or a finance guy, not an IT guy.

Penny Conway:

Right.

Mike Henson:

In this case, it’s not an IT problem, but it is solved with an IT solution. And so, from that perspective, I think what you’ll find is, anybody that is a counselor, principal, or senior administrator whether it be a board of directors, board of education I guess, these are the people that are going to be interested in, because they are talking to other CIO’s and other administrators through these national conferences and regional conferences. I think it’s a great webcast topic to invite people to, but if you lead into it with the IT directors, I think you’ll find it’s going to be a non-budgeted item until there is a compelling event-

Penny Conway:

-incident. Yep.

Mike Henson:

-that forces them to spend the money. And I’ll just be honest with you, the Soter solution and our solution working together, you know we’re very value sensitive type product solution, so is Soter. So, when you look at the total cost of ownership, it’s far less expensive than to do it any other way.

Penny Conway:

So, if a customer has had an incident-

Mike Henson:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Penny Conway:

-or maybe, they haven’t had an incident but a nearby school has, because we see that a lot in K-12. If it happened next door, chances are it’s gonna happen to me, as well. So, if there is sort of, that compelling incident, how do they engage your team to sort of see what that total cost of ownership is, compared to having someone stand at a bathroom or having some sensors to help them out?

Mike Henson:

Great question. And it’s easy. Call Senax. Soter is one of our partners. They’re an alliance partner of ours. And so, what we’ve done is, we worked with Soter and Senax to put together a bundle. And we’ve got a four sensor and a ten-sensor bundle, and it just depends on you know, for an elementary school or a middle school, you know, or a high school, depending on how large it is. Whether it be a private school or charter school, you know, whatever, the needs are going to be different. But we’ve got it bundled, it’s discounted and it gets the customer the opportunity to see the technology without a huge investment.

Mike Henson:

The investment is under $10,000 for even the large bundle.

Penny Conway:

Excellent.

Mike Henson:

So, you know it can range, depending on the number of sensors and switches, it could range from you know five grand up to twelve or fifteen, you know, to get a full school deploy. So, it’s really not that bad.

Penny Conway:

And what’s the- usually the time for installation? Like from receipt to we’re ready to go, the cloud management system’s up and running?

Mike Henson:

Well, that’s easy, too. An ethernet switch, everyone knows is relatively simple, it’s commoditized nowadays, it’s not overly complicated. The sensor itself, really has no configuration that’s required to actually do the install, it really comes down to being able to pull the ethernet cable into the bathroom, which is somewhere that, or the locker room that generally, you don’t have ethernet connectivity to-

Penny Conway:

Yep. (Laughs).

Mike Henson:

-so, I would say the wiring is probably the most difficult challenge for the IT guys. After that, the bundle actually includes a setup and consultation. A time with Soter to actually deploy the sensor, show them how to use the sensor, how to train, how to work on the anti-bullying in terms of identifying false positives-

Penny Conway:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Henson:

-so Soter actually does a very good job oh hands on support and installation.

Penny Conway:

Excellent.

Mike Henson:

So it does not take any certifications, it does not take any special skills, it’s a very simple, very direct, you know, it’s a sensor plugged into an ethernet jack, connected to the Ruckus switch, connected to the Soter cloud. Very, very simple.

Penny Conway:

So, if you have found yourself in the headlines recently due to vaping, or you’re just trying to keep yourself out of those headlines, give Connection a call and with our partner, Ruckus, we can help you develop a solution to solve your vaping and bullying problems, which vaping and bullying may not be IT issues, but they can be solved with IT solutions.

Penny Conway:

Mike, thanks so much for joining us here on the podcast today. I hope we have you back soon and have a great day.

Mike Henson:

Thank you.

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