The year 2017 saw some of the worst natural disasters in North America, with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma wreaking havoc on Houston, Texas, and the Caribbean with force of which we haven’t seen before. While many people chose to evacuate these areas, many were left to deal with the devastation and first responders had the difficult job of assessing the damage, rescuing trapped victims and delivering food and supplies.

AI-enabled drones and robotics to assess damage

In addition, more than 1,800 FEMA employees were deployed to support the hurricane relief efforts along with over 340 workers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.Robots could be vital in ensuring that security is maintained within a disaster zone - and they only cost a quarter of a police officer's salary

That’s on top of the resources that were already actively working to save lives in the affected areas, including the Texas National Guard, the entirety of which was activated by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shortly after Harvey came ashore.

While these rescue workers work tirelessly to make a difference, many times there simply aren’t enough hands to truly help everyone in need.

As a result, some companies look at this as a way to introduce technology to the equation that can be easily deployed in the event of disaster, including artificial intelligence-enabled drones and robotics to assess damage, provide initial triage for patients, and provide basic supplies to people in need.

While still in the beginning stages, these initiatives are already being implemented in some emerging markets.

Robots as mobile sentries

Disaster situations tend to bring out the best in people as evidenced by those who turn out en masse, either on their own or by volunteering with service organisations, to try and help their fellow citizens following storms, earthquakes and other types of calamities.Utilising a robot instead of a human as a sentry means less law enforcement and/or security personnel

Unfortunately, these types of incidents also bring out the worst in humankind in the form of looters and others who seek to take advantage of people who have lost everything.

Although it should be noted that fears and reports of looting are often overstated during events like Harvey and other disasters, there’s no denying that keeping the peace and making sure that things do not descend into chaos and anarchy during what is a stressful time for all involved is paramount.

Given that law enforcement and the National Guard must devote the majority of their attention to other recovery efforts, robots could be vital in ensuring that security is maintained within a disaster zone.

In addition to not having to allocate manpower to security, which again involves bringing in people and placing further burdens on available resources, deploying robots to act as mobile sentries offers a number of benefits.

Sustainable resources

Obviously, there are cost advantages to using robots rather than people. For example, in a typical commercial environment, robots can be deployed for about half the cost of a traditional unarmed guard and they only cost about a quarter of what it takes to employ a police officer in a law enforcement-type application.

Most robots are also outfitted with surveillance cameras, which provide authorities the ability to constantly monitor an area and record video for evidentiary purposes.

Deploying robots to act as mobile sentries offers a number of benefits
Artificial intelligence-enabled drones and robotics aid to assess damage, provide initial triage for patients, and provide basic supplies to people in need during a natural disaster 

Perhaps the most appealing benefit that robots offer to emergency management officials in a security role during disaster recovery efforts is sustainability. Robots never get tired, nor do they have to use the bathroom, eat or take a break.

With the abilities afforded by AI, robots can also navigate any designated area autonomously to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior or alert first responders to those who may need aid.Pattern recognition programs are essentially the building blocks that make the larger umbrella of general AI possible

The SMP Robotics S5 Security Robot from Robotic Assistance Devices, for example, can run for as long as 20 hours without needing to be recharged and a single operator working from a central command post could manage up to 25 of them.

Robotic sentries to address short-staffing

Having robots patrol certain locations also reduces the likelihood of violent encounters between people and security forces. It’s not uncommon for tensions to boil over in situations where people feel hopeless and they can sometimes lash out at the very people sent to help them.

Such a situation occurred following Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast in 2005. Just days after the Superdome was converted into a makeshift shelter for evacuees, conditions inside the massive building began to deteriorate and a National Guardsman was assaulted one night inside a locker room.

The attack resulted in troops putting up barbed wire fencing in various places around the building for protection from the increasingly agitated crowd.

Last but certainly not least, utilising a robot instead of a human as a sentry in the aftermath of a disaster means that less law enforcement and/or security personnel will have be pulled from surrounding areas, many of which are already short-staffed as it is.Robots are outfitted with surveillance cameras, which provide authorities the ability to constantly monitor an area

Law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs from adjacent communities and neighboring states almost immediately pour into the hardest hit areas following a disaster; however, this also leaves their respective agencies somewhat vulnerable themselves should they encounter a devastating event of their own.

The use of just 50 robots, because they can work more hours, could mean that roughly 120 first responders could stay put in their own cities, towns and counties.

New possibilities with artificial intelligence

While drones still largely require a human operator to chart their flight paths and control their movements, the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionising the capabilities of machines to work autonomously.

Though it may sound like something straight out of a science fiction novel or movie, there are already numerous robotic technologies that leverage some form of AI technology today.

Of course, there is still a bit of confusion about what exactly AI is as well as some of the underlying terminology surrounding it.

Generally speaking, AI is the ability of a computer to imitate the cognitive thinking and decision-making capabilities of humans.

the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionising the capabilities of machines to work autonomously
AI is the ability of a computer to imitate the cognitive thinking and decision-making capabilities of humans

Some of the terms used in conjunction with AI, such as machine learning, deep learning and neural networks, refer to the ability of software programs to recognize patterns in large amounts of ingested data.

Pattern recognition programs such as these, labeled by some as ‘narrow AI’, are essentially the building blocks that make the larger umbrella of general AI possible.Robots used in disaster scenarios could help maintain law and order, assist in search and rescue operations, and provide vital communications capabilities

Remote physical security capabilities

The physical security industry has recently been inundated with technologies that leverage different components of this narrow AI category.

The manned guarding segment, in particular, has seen the introduction of a variety of robot guards over the past several years, which have been deployed in a range of different applications.

Aside from serving as a force multiplier, robots with machine learning capabilities give security end users the ability to have an expanded presence in locations or situations characterised as too 'dull, dirty or dangerous' to place a human guard.

For example, while it may not be feasible to have a human patrol the outskirts of a vital electric substation located hundreds of miles from the nearest town, having a robot that can easily traverse the harsh terrain and notify the proper authorities when something is amiss would be a viable alternative.Sometimes health and safety concerns make it dangerous to have a human watch the site, such as at toxic waste dumps - robots do not have this issue

Technology as force multiplier in disaster management

There are also situations where health and safety concerns simply preclude the ability of having a human watch the site, such as at toxic waste dumps, but this is not the case for a robot.

Similar to these situations where having human guards is not desirable or even possible, robots could be used in disaster scenarios where they could help maintain law and order, assist in search and rescue operations, as well as provide vital communications capabilities.

Robots and drones that are equipped with artificial intelligence capabilities can offer first responders a look into the aftermath of a natural disaster and serve as a force multiplier in these cases.

We’re seeing the rise of the use of this kind of technology, and as the world faces more and more weather-related and man-made disasters in the future, they will become a part of the fabric of emergency response.

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School security benefits from advanced communication technology
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With the recent tragic events in Florida, it’s evident that schools require more tools to help ensure their students’ safety. With that, school and municipal officials all over the country are looking for more advanced ways to combat gun violence. While there is no perfect solution for the myriad of threats and emergencies with which our schools are confronted, many have looked to technology to help improve communications before, during and after incidents. For schools across the state of Arkansas; Nassau County, New York; Snohomish County, Washington; New Castel County, Delaware; Limestone County, Alabama and scores of others, the answer was the implementation of technologies that connect school personnel directly with local police, fire and EMS, and designated individuals at the school. Communication tools have proven invaluable when a potential active shooter situation was being discussed on social media Key to these schools’ choice in technology was the recognition that while the most traumatic of threats is the active assailant, any technology investment should be just as effective in handling the more frequent day-to-day incidents. Communication technologies for incident management How have technologies such as mobile panic buttons and anonymous texting helped impact school safety? Here are a few examples: In Limestone County, Alabama, 9-1-1 Director Brandon Wallace led an effort to implement technology tools across the county to help prevent and more quickly notify personnel of possible emergency situations. Communication tools have proven invaluable especially when a potential active shooter situation was being discussed on social media. Advanced technology integration The technology not only connected directly to emergency personnel, but also ensured that school faculty were able to communicate with one another during a potential emergency and account for students. Following the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the school superintendent Dr. Joseph V. Erardi, Jr. chose to make communication technology a part of their new safety plan. The integration of advanced technology has given staff and teachers a greater sense of safety with not only active shooter events but also events like medical emergencies that require fast action and a quick response from public safety officials. Trainings ensure that staff and students are prepared for any type of situation and be on the same page in an emergency situation Implementing enhanced safety measures What are some lessons learned from these schools that can be applied to protect students in other areas? Here are some tips for implementing more safety measures into schools: Make sure your solution has a daily use. Unfortunately, many great technologies have sat unused when emergencies struck simply because those involved weren’t familiar with them or were under extreme duress and forgot about them. Training is an obvious necessity, but finding solutions with daily use cases (such as value in medical emergencies) can have a huge impact not only on ROI but also during an incident. Evaluate past incidents. Response during past incidents can always help future plans. Whether incidents have been handled well or have room for improvement, it’s important to continue to develop incident responses. For Limestone County, Alabama, the use of technology in their response plan was first tested during a medical emergency which helped to confirm the continued use within the school. 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New tools can then be tested to ensure that all staff and students are comfortable in the event they will need to utilise it in the future. Expand those involved in your drills to be those who will actually be involved in an incident. All too often, drills are siloed and don’t include outside agencies. Re-evaluating safety procedures Schools across the country can learn a lot from districts that have implemented and actually used new communications technologies addressing school safety, which are leading the way in how teachers and faculty are preparing to keep students safe. However, it will remain important to re-evaluate safety procedures and integrate technology to help ensure that these steps remain effective. As the tools continue to advance, the available safety measures will only continue to grow.

Artificial intelligence is changing intrusion detection dynamics in the security industry
Artificial intelligence is changing intrusion detection dynamics in the security industry

With the ever-growing availability of video data thanks to the low cost of high-resolution video cameras and storage, artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning analytics now have become a necessity for the physical security industry, including access control and intrusion detection. Minimising human error and false positives are the key motivations for applying AI technologies in the security industry. What is artificial intelligence? Artificial intelligence is the ability of machines to learn from experience using a multi-layer neural network, which mimics the human brain, in order to recognise items and patterns and make decisions without human interference. 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More components mean a higher probability of malfunction in the system, including exposure to damages (e.g., sensors can be destroyed) and delay in detection, while human monitoring is inconsistent due to human fatigue (studies have shown that a person can concentrate in mundane tasks for only up to 20 minutes, and the attention span decreases even more rapidly when humans are faced with multiple items at once, e.g., multiple camera monitoring screens). AI significantly reduces, if not completely eliminates the need for human involvement in the intrusion detection system once it is set up. In addition, AI reduces the risk of system malfunction by simplifying the hardware sensors needed. Minimising human error and false positives are the key motivations for applying AI technologies in the security industry Additional benefits of AI in intrusion detection Artificial Intelligence is undeniably reshaping every business and weaving into every aspect of daily lifeMaximal detection capability: The most advanced AI intrusion detection system today provides an all-in-one solution to distinguish any combination of alarm-triggering criteria beyond perimeter protection. 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How physical security consultants ensure cybersecurity for end users
How physical security consultants ensure cybersecurity for end users

Cybersecurity talk currently dominates many events in the physical security industry. And it’s about time, given that we are all playing catch-up in a scary cybersecurity environment where threats are constant and constantly evolving. I heard an interesting discussion about cybersecurity recently among consultants attending MercTech4, a conference in Miami hosted by Mercury Security and its OEM partners. The broad-ranging discussion touched on multiple aspects of cybersecurity, including the various roles of end user IT departments, consultants, and integrators. Factors such as training, standardisation and pricing were also addressed as they relate to cybersecurity. Following are some edited excerpts from that discussion.  The role of the IT department Pierre Bourgeix of ESI Convergent: Most enterprises usually have the information technology (IT) department at the table [for physical security discussions], and cybersecurity is a component of IT. The main concern for them is how any security product will impact the network environment. The first thing they will say, is “we have to ensure that there is network segmentation to prevent any potential viruses or threats or breaches from coming in.” The main concern for IT departments is how any security product will impact the network environment”They want to make sure that any devices in the environment are secure. Segmentation is good, but it isn’t an end-all. There is no buffer that can be created; these air gaps don’t exist. Cyber is involved in a defensive matter, in terms of what they have to do to protect that environment. IT is more worried about the infrastructure. The role of consultants and specifiers Phil Santore of DVS, division of Ross & Baruzzini: As consultants and engineers, we work with some major banks. They tell us if you bring a new product to the table, it will take two to three months before they will onboard the product, because they will run it through [cybersecurity testing] in their own IT departments. If it’s a large bank, they have an IT team, and there will never be anything we [as consultants] can tell them that they don’t already know. But we all have clients that are not large; they’re museums, or small corporations, or mom-and-pop shops. They may not be as vulnerable from the international threat, but there are still local things they have to be concerned about. It falls on us as consultants to let them know what their problems are. Their IT departments may not be that savvy. We need to at least make them aware and start there. Wael Lahoud of Goldmark Security Consulting: We are seeing more and more organisations having cybersecurity programs in place, at different maturity levels. At the procurement stage, we as consultants must select and specify products that have technology to enable cybersecurity, and not choose products that are outdated or incompatible with cybersecurity controls. We also see, from an access control perspective, a need to address weaknesses in databases. Specifying and having integrators that can harden the databases, not just the network itself, can help. The impact of physical security products on the network environment was a dominant topic at the MercTech4 consultants roundtable discussion The need for standards on cybersecurity Jim Elder of Secured Design: I’d like to know what standards we as specifiers can invoke that will help us ensure that the integrator of record has the credentials, knows what standards apply, and knows how to make sure those standards are maintained in the system. I’m a generalist, and cybersecurity scares the hell out of me.We’re not just talking about access to cameras, we are talking about access to the corporate network and all the bad things that can happen with that. My emphasis would be on standards and compliance with standards in the equipment and technology that is used, and the way it is put in. It can be easier for me, looking at some key points, to be able to determine if the system has been installed in accordance. We are seeing more and more organisations having cybersecurity programs in place, at different maturity levels"I’m taking the position of the enforcement officer, rather than the dictator. It would be much better if there were focused standards that I could put into the specification— I know there are some – that would dictate the processes, not just of manufacturing, but of installation of the product, and the tests you should run accordingly. Pierre Bourgeix: With the Security Industry Association (SIA), we are working right now on a standard that includes analysed scoring on the IT and physical side to identify a technology score, a compliance score, a methodology, and best-of-breed recommendation. Vendor validation would be used to ensure they follow the same process. We have created the model, and we will see what we can do to make it work. Terry Robinette of Sextant: If a standard can be written and it’s a reasonable process, I like the idea of the equipment meeting some standardised format or be able to show that it can withstand the same type of cyber-attack a network switch can withstand. We may not be reinventing the wheel. IT is the most standardised industry you will ever see, and security is the least standardised. But they’re merging. And that will drive standardisation. Jim Elder: I look to Underwriters Laboratory (UL) for a lot of standards. Does the product get that label? I am interested in being able to look at a box on the wall and say, “That meets the standard.” Or some kind of list with check-boxes; if all the boxes are checked I can walk out and know I have good cybersecurity threat management. IT is the most standardised industry you will ever see, and security is the least standardised" The role of training Phil Santore: Before you do any cybersecurity training, you would need to set the level of cybersecurity you are trying to achieve. There are multiple levels from zero to a completely closed network. Wael Lahoud: From an integrator’s perspective, cybersecurity training by the manufacturer of product features would be the place to start – understanding how to partner the database, and the encryption features. We see integrators that know these features are available – they tick the boxes – but they don’t understand what they mean. Cybersecurity is a complex topic, and the risk aspects and maturity levels vary by organisation. That would be a good starting point. The role of integrators Wael Lahoud: Integrators like convenience; less time means more money. So, we see some integrators cut corners. I think it is our role (as consultants) to make sure corners are not cut. If you rely solely on integrators, it will always be the weak password, the bypass. We have seen it from small projects to large government installations. It’s the same again and again. Even having an internal standard within an organisation, there may be no one overseeing that and double-checking. Tools will help, but we are not there at this point. I will leave it up to manufacturers to provide the tools to make it easy for consultants to check, and easier for integrators to use the controls. Cybersecurity is a complex topic, and the risk aspects and maturity levels vary by organisation - so training is very important The impact of pricing Pierre Bourgeix: The race to the cheapest price is a big problem. We have well-intended designs and assessments that define best-of-breed and evaluate what would be necessary to do what the client needs. But once we get to the final point of that being implemented, the customer typically goes to the lowest price – the lowest bidder. That’s the biggest issue. You get what you pay for at the end of the day. With standards, we are trying to get to the point that people realise that not all products are made the same, not all integrators do the same work. We hope that through education of the end user, they can realise that if they change the design, they have to accept the liability.It’s not just the product that’s the weakest link, it’s the whole process from design to securing that product and launching it" The big picture Wael Lahoud: The Windows platform has a lot of vulnerabilities, but we’re still using it, even in banks. So, it’s not just the product that’s the weakest link, it’s the whole process from design to securing that product and launching it. That’s where the cybersecurity program comes into play. There are many vulnerable products in the market, and it’s up to professionals to properly secure these products and to design systems and reduce the risk. Pierre Bourgeix: The access port to get to data is what hackers are looking for. The weakest link is where they go. They want to penetrate through access control to get to databases. The golden ring is the data source, so they can get credentialing, so they can gain access to your active directory, which then gives them permissions to get into your “admin.” Once we get into “admin,” we get to the source of the information. It has nothing to do with gaining access to a door, it has everything to do with data. And that’s happening all the time.