School installs vape detectors

A HALO Sensor, or vape detector, is shown at Franklin Monroe School. It monitors air quality, room occupancy, sound frequency, and chemical detection.

ARCANUM — The health problems and dangers of vape or e-cigarette products have made recent headlines, in particular, concerns surrounding its usage by youth.

According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), between 2017 and 2018, there has been a 78 percent increase in reported vaping by high school students, and 48 percent increase by middle school students.

Since vape products contain high amounts of nicotine, they are particularly harmful, and addicting, to youth and young adults when their brains are still in development. Nicotine slows that brain development, affects concentration and learning, irritates the lungs, and may cause significant lung damage.

However, while mysterious lung problems and even death have left government officials and businesses scrambling, schools are already taking action.

“Kids are generally unaware of the dangers,” said Franklin Monroe Superintendent Jeremy Pequignot as he shared why the school invested in vape detectors or HALO Smart Sensors that were recently installed in several school restrooms.

Unfortunately, continued Pequignot, students believe that vapes or e-cigarettes are “a safe alternative” to traditional tobacco products. The latter generally easy to detect via its odor and lingering smoke. Vapes or e-cigarettes, on the other hand, leave no tell-tale odor on clothes, or in the air. Further, when students do vape, it is in key areas of the school, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, that are difficult to monitor.

It was through vendor fairs and advertisements that Franklin Monroe school administrators discovered the HALO Smart Sensor. Upon first impression, the HALO resembles a smoke detector. They are small, a little more than five inches round and three inches deep, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in ability.

A HALO monitors air quality, room occupancy, sound frequency, and chemical detection. For example, chemical detection includes whippets (nitrous oxide), ethanol, propanol, and hydrogen levels as well as ammonia. Sound detection adds an extra layer of security by detecting aggressive behavior, even gunshots.

Upon detection, an alert is sent to designated school administrators via email and text alerts. An alert is simple. It lists what was detected and where along with a time stamp. This information can then be coupled with cameras in common rooms to determine who may be involved.

The HALO utilizes Power over Ethernet or PoE, with detection adjustable according to space and surveillance needs. The price runs from $1000 to $1200 with the school’s technology director and maintenance, making the installation at Franklin Monroe.

Last week, the Darke County Safety Council Steering Committee made a $500 donation towards the school’s initial detector investment. Pequignot, along with PJ Burgett, the Franklin Monroe middle school and high principal, were in attendance. They also provided information on the detectors as well as the dangers related to vapes and e-cigarettes.

The plan is to expand the detectors throughout the school with the response so far supportive, said Pequignot. The HALO allows school operations to function as normal while doing what is needed to keep students safe.

As to discipline, the detectors are not meant to be a “gotcha” with administrators transparent about the reasons, said Pequignot. He noted school policy in regards to tobacco and the pending state updates on the tobacco purchase age, which will soon be set at 21.

“With the changes and the overall concern for how kids are using, coupled with state law, we’re assessing where we are moving with discipline response,” continued Pequignot. He pointed out the detector serves as not only a deterrent and safety feature but an educational piece.

“It gets that conversation going with kids,” said Pequignot. “Kids start asking questions when they see that.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Pictured is Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker, of the Darke County Sheriff’s Office, Sharon Deschambeau, Darke County Chamber President, Jeremy Pequignot, Franklin Monroe Schools Superintendent, PJ Burgett, High school/Middle School Principal, Franklin Monroe Schools, Kent Myers, Brumbaugh Construction Inc., Darke County Safety Council Chairman, and Susan Shamis, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and Darke County Safety Council liaison. The Darke County Safety Council Steering Committee presented a donation to Franklin Monroe Schools to help the district in the purchase of vape detectors that are being installed in school restrooms.

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