Vape detectors installed at Northeast Ohio schools

CLEVELAND (WJW) – Detectors that are intended to help identify smoking and vaping in areas, including bathrooms and school locker rooms, have advanced well beyond simply sensing smoke.

The sensors are eavesdropping on conversations, listening for key words and sounds associated with TikTok challenges and bullying and fights, using a kind of radar to sense the number of people who are gathering or loitering in a bathroom.

“Obviously you can’t have cameras in a restroom so what else can you use? What other tools can you and I use without having to, you know, putting a person in there?” said Will Hargett, the CEO of Zeptive, a company that makes sensors.

“The sensors have motion sensors on there so they can tell you and I if there’s occupancy and what the volume of occupancy is. There’s a sound sensor in there as well so it listens for, hey is there any elevated sound we should be concerned with.”

“Can I put sensors in there in places where I can’t have cameras to provide insight give me information and maybe hopefully it impacts policy and makes it easier for administrators to do their jobs,” said Hargett.

Lance Parthemore was in high school when vaping seemed to peak in 2019.

“It seems like overnight multiple peers had vapes they were blowing up in class they were leaving using the bathroom, hanging out in the bathroom for extended periods of time just to vape and Juul was the big one at that point that really captured the young demographic, ” Parthemore told Fox 8 News.

“It really led to some major behavioral changes among some of my peers in honors and AP level classes. They would be cutting class to go vape they would be vaping during class, and you know it was honestly hard to go into the bathroom without walking into a big cloud of vape smoke,” he added.

As a STEM project, while in high school Parthemore, his brother Garrison and a friend Jack Guerissi decided to build their own detectors creating a company called Triton Sensors.

Today, their company has detectors in more than 700 school districts across the United States.  They are in all 50 states and abroad.

Their top-of-the-line sensors do much more than simply detect vape and cigarette smoke and the chemicals that are in them.

“Whether it is drug use, whether it is vandalism whether it is violence, distress, panics those are all the majority of them are happening in private spaces, so we have really fine-tuned our safety algorithm to detect the drug use to detect noise anomalies like shouting like yelling for help to better protect those private areas,” said Parthemore.

Alerts can be sent quietly to school administrators or to school resource officers who can respond.

The detectors are also tamper resistant with an alarm that senses if someone is attempting to disable them.

Locally, the Revere School District in Summit County invited Fox 8 News into its buildings when the vape detectors were first installed in their high school and middle school in 2019.

The district refused to let us into their buildings, show them to us, or talk about their success for this story.

Fox 8 has also learned from a confidential source, that in another district which installed several dozen of the detectors in their schools, those detectors kept alerting administrators so much that they became overwhelmed just responding to the alerts.

For just vaping alone Dr. Omlor, a pulmonologist at Akron Children’s Hospital, says installing the detectors is worth the investment.

“It’s definitely still a thing and data that I have read anywhere between 20 to 30-percent of high school students are vaping at this point, so it’s still a significant portion,” said Omlor.

Among the greatest concerns is not knowing exactly what is contained in some of the chemicals that are being vaped.

Omlor says after generations of studying the effects of cigarettes on human health their effects are well known.

But vaping, which first became a thing in the United States in 2006, is relatively new.

“I’ve seen kids who are both smoking cigarettes and vaping, and I tell them we know cigarettes can cause damage, but it usually takes years whereas vaping you could die tomorrow because of vaping, so I would stop that immediately,” said Omlor.

Greg Conley, Director of legislative and external affairs for the American Vape Manufacturers Association tells Fox 8 News that the industry agrees youth should not be vaping and vape detectors are a part of the solution.

“I completely agree that vape detectors are only one prong of a multi-pronged approach,” said Parthemore.

The modern sensors are also not cheap.  They will cost a school district an average of about $1,000 each.

Many school…

Read More: Vape detectors installed at Northeast Ohio schools