- Office of the Inspector General
Media Contact for IG Shapiro Calls On School Building Authority To Adopt Measures To Mitigate Risks Of Smart Building Technology
Carrie Kimball, Communications Officer
Boston, MA — Inspector General Jeffrey S. Shapiro asked the Massachusetts School Building Authority to consider measures to mitigate risks of smart technology when funding school building projects in a letter issued to State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) today. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reviewed the procurement of a “smart” lighting system installed in the Minnechaug Regional High School after a malfunction made it impossible for the school to turn out the lights for 18 months.
“Increasingly, in an effort to meet the aggressive carbon reduction goals for Massachusetts, schools will incorporate smart technology into critical building functions in new construction and upgrades of legacy systems,” Shapiro said. “By ensuring that adequate consideration is given to risks that smart systems pose, the MSBA is uniquely qualified to help school districts maximize the benefits of innovation and energy conservation while also preventing the waste of public funds or system failures that can jeopardize school operations.”
The school, located in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, was a participant in the MSBA’s “Model School” program. When the school was rebuilt in 2012, a network-based lighting system was installed. This system, a proprietary product of Fifth Light Technology, operated on a server that, by design, could be accessed remotely. In August 2021, the server was corrupted by malware and went into default mode, causing the school lights to remain on continuously until the system could be repaired in February 2023. Due to the proprietary software issues, the school did not have administrative access to the server to control the lights, access to backup software to restore the system or an override switch. The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District superintendent’s office told the OIG that the excess electricity and repairs cost the school district up to $150,000.
“There are many benefits to implementing smart building technology in schools, including improvements in student learning, work conditions for teachers, safety, operations and energy management,” Shapiro said. “This episode serves as a cautionary tale for current and future school projects. The measures identified by the OIG will help schools consider and mitigate risks in the procurement, design and construction of these high-tech systems.”
The measures outlined in the letter recommend using open source, rather than proprietary software, establishing incident response plans, obtaining administrative access to servers and ensuring specific training to operate the system without assistance from the vendor.