The benefits of some physical security systems have an obvious return on investment, such as surveillance cameras trained on retail cashiers and access systems that keep unauthorised persons from entering protected areas.

There are others that may only show a return once a negative event has occurred, and some may argue that gunshot detection falls into this category, however there are many reasons to see the value in this technology.

Below are a few reasons why you should look at gunshot detection and some best practices for evaluating this type of technology. 


Reduced casualties = reduced costs

Most of gunshot detection’s value will be measured on the system’s ability to reduce response time to a shooting incident. Statistics have shown that an average of one death occurs every 5-15 seconds during an active shooter incident. One question to ask gunshot detection manufacturers is how quickly their system alerts. Applying these statistics against alerting speed can help calculate a potential reduction in casualties to employees.Mitigating casualties can also reduce subsequent benefit costs for those psychologically traumatised by the incident

Mitigating casualties can also reduce subsequent benefit costs including paid sick leave, death benefits, and mental health care for those psychologically traumatised by the incident. To put this into real-world context, a major retail brand experienced a workplace shooting that tragically resulted in loss of lives and multiple casualties. The corporation spent more than $40M in costs associated with the shooting.

It was after this incident that the company decided to install gunshot detection, because although they had looked at it previously, they finally made the connection to the return on investment: Reduced response time will decrease (and hopefully eliminate) casualties, which will save lives and millions of dollars if a future incident were to occur at one of their sites.

Meeting OSHA requirements

OSHA’s General Duty Clause states that employers must provide a workplace free of “recognised hazards” that are likely to cause death or serious injury. Courts have interpreted this to mean that employers have a legal obligation to abate the active shooter hazard when there is a feasible method available to do so.


Mark Terry, Director of Global Enterprise Security for Rackspace in San Antonio, sees gunshot detection as a life safety necessity that also fulfils the corporation’s Duty of Care. He told me that adding gunshot detection is not only a game changer for active shooter response, it fulfils their Duty of Care and brings peace of mind that his company has done everything they can to protect their people.

Gunshot Detection Reduces Litigation
Lawsuits charging security negligence have become commonplace after shootings

Reduce litigation risk with gunshot detection – but choose wisely

Lawsuits charging security negligence have become commonplace after shootings, naming a “lack of gunshot detection devices” as a source of culpability, such as the $800M lawsuit victims brought against MGM after the Route 91 concert shooting in October 2017. What is important to realise, however, is that not all gunshot detection systems are created equal, so there are a number of performance characteristics to consider.

For example, acoustic-only systems have a higher likelihood of false alerting to loud noises, especially indoors, as do those that search a library of gunshot audio files before reporting shots.Dual mode systems that require both acoustic and infrared detection in order to report are far more accurate

Dual mode systems that require both acoustic and infrared detection in order to report are far more accurate. Tedd Steele, Senior Network Architect at Charleston International Airport, told Airport Improvement Magazine that the system they installed “can determine gunshots with a high degree of accuracy thanks to the dual mode sensors. It knows the difference between loud bangs and a gunshot.” When looking at wireless gunshot detection systems, end users should ask about sensor uptime, self-testing features, battery life and encrypted communications.


Regulations and standards

Currently, there are no standards or regulations to follow in order to market a technology as gunshot detection. A video camera is typical in that you can expect that the product will capture video. There are different feature sets like facial recognition and analytics that set different systems apart on the backend, but first, cameras must capture a moving image. When you apply this same analogy to gunshot detection, the waters are a bit muddier because the science of isolating gunshots while also filtering out false alerts is much more complex than simply detecting and reporting a loud bang.The NFPA has also issued guidelines for the use of gunshot detection

Many manufacturers of aggression detection systems now claim ‘gunshot detection’ as a feature set, and there are smoke detectors and cameras now marketing this claim, but these devices are not on the same level playing field as genuine gunshot detection systems. In the absence of regulations and standards, consumers should look to authorities that have evaluated systems such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Centre for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure in the U.K., The NFPA has also issued guidelines for the use of gunshot detection as a part of their principal role in creating life safety codes for buildings.  

Testing and References

If you place a number of gunshot detection systems side by side in a shooting range, they all will likely report a shot, but this is not a reasonable test because a range is a controlled environment.

What happens in a real world environment? Does the system need to be calibrated to its environment? What happens in the presence of fire alarms and strobes going off in a live incident? Seeing a system respond to live fire is important in the evaluation process, but it is not the only marker of overall system capability.


Consumers will want to ask manufactures questions like how many systems have been deployed in customer environments and for how long, and let their customers tell you their detection and false alert rates have been. Enterprise consumers will want to look closely at network and cybersecurity features and look closely for any potential security risks. Also ask for references from customers in your industry so you can see how and where they are using gunshot detection to meet challenges that might be unique to your type of workplace, school, or public venue.

Seeing a system respond to live fire is important in the evaluation process

Overall, it is extremely important for organisations to be able to declare that they have done everything in their power to properly prepare for and respond to active shooters.

Combining an effective gunshot detection system with video, access control and mass notification will not only improve your ability to effectively respond to a shooting incident, it raises your security posture and confidence that you have done everything you can to protect your people from modern day threats. It also puts these security systems to better use by delivering real-time, additional situational awareness during a shooting incident. And this will be especially true when you have done your due diligence before selecting a gunshot detection system.

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Author profile

Christian Connors CEO, Shooter Detection Systems

Christian Connors is CEO of Shooter Detection Systems LLC. His current positions include CEO at Mil-Com Security Solutions, Cognika Intelligence and Defense, President at LJC Consulting, and Board of Directors at Aethercomm. He also worked with BBN Technologies-Boomerang as VP of Business Development.

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