Several recent terrorist and mass violence attacks have been directed at soft targets, or relatively unprotected locations where people gather such as outside a music venue or in the unscreened passenger areas at airports. Attacks in public areas have led to the development of new security technologies aimed at protecting soft targets.

One company addressing the challenges is Evolv Technology and its Edge automated high-speed personnel screening solution. The system integrates walkthrough firearm and explosive detection for high-throughput protection of events and soft targets.The Edge system has multiple detection sensitivity settings to respond to various threat scenarios

Enhanced visitor experience

The system seeks to increase security without compromising the ‘customer experience’. People simply walk through single-file – between two 5-foot-tall stanchions. One lane can screen up to 800 people per hour, and the system detects explosives or metallic objects without the need for pat-downs or wands or other invasive procedures. Any personal belongings can remain in visitors’ pockets. A single security guard is needed for each lane to verify any detected threats.

The system combines an improved security posture with a better visitor experience,” says Mike Ellenbogen, CEO of Evolv Technology. “We need to fly and have been trained to be screened at the airport, but we don’t expect to be screened going to see a ball game or a Mozart concert. Evolv recognised a need for a new way to inspect people before they enter these types of facilities. It’s a seamless system that pulls various technologies together. We want to feel safe but without having to sacrifice the quality of the experience.”Screening analytics provide data on the numbers of people screened by time of day and by result

The system combines millimetre wave and magnetic field sensors, along with artificial intelligence (AI)/ machine learning and can incorporate additional data such as biometrics. Known bad actors can be identified using facial recognition. The system has multiple detection sensitivity settings to respond to various threat scenarios.

Expanding perimeter protection

A security guard provides the human touch by verifying any threats detected by the system. The locations of concealed items are displayed on a photo of the individual using a color-coded box overlay. Screening analytics provide data on the numbers of people screened by time of day and by result.

Ellenbogen says the company is working to have the system adopted at entertainment venues, performing arts centres, sports centres, for air and rail transportation, and to protect high-profile government buildings. The Edge system can expand the protected perimeter to a wider area that was previously unprotected.

The soft target approach can be applied to public buildings and used in lieu of metal detectors and x-ray machines
The Edge system can expand the protected perimeter to a wider area that was previously unprotected

For example, concert-goers exited the arena of an Ariana Grande concert May 22, 2017, in Manchester, U.K., and entered the surrounding area that was unscreened and unsecured. Placing a user-friendly screening system around a wider perimeter outside the concert venue might have prevented the use of an improvised explosive device in the terrorist attack.Placing a user-friendly screening system around a wider perimeter outside the concert venue might have prevented the use of an improvised explosive device in the terrorist attack

Threat mitigation with soft target approach

Likewise, a 2016 bombing at the Brussels Airport occurred in the departure hall outside the passenger screening areas. Securing a wider perimeter – for example, screening customers discreetly as they enter the airport building from a parking area – could have provided additional security against such an attack.

Ellenbogen confirms Evolv has sold a number of systems to major European airports to screen visitors and passengers as they enter the front door. “Addressing the threat to an airport or train system is different than screening passengers; we are looking for different types of objects and different types of materials. The idea is to be able to detect threats to a venue before they get into the venue.”

The soft target approach can also be applied to public buildings, such as courthouses, and used in lieu of more invasive metal detectors and x-ray machines. The portability of the Edge system enables a ‘pop-up’ approach to security – i.e., to relocate the system to address specific or changing security threats easily. The self-contained system only requires a wall plug.

Labour reduction (because of faster throughput) can help offset the system costs but it’s difficult to quantify the improvement in the visitor experienceImproving security posture at event venues

It’s surprising the level of importance [venue owners] put on the visitor experience,” says Ellenbogen. “They see that their brand starts at the front door. They are eager to find alternative security solutions that come across as more inviting, less imposing, less closed down, less invasive than the solutions they have been using,” he says. “They are driven by a desire to improve the visitor experience as they improve the security posture.”

He says current events, including terrorist attacks and mass shootings, drive awareness among venue owners to improve the security of soft targets. “The level of interest is high, and it spikes somewhat when there is a big headline,” Ellenbogen says.

He notes that the system is more expensive than a metal detector, but about a third the cost of familiar airport body scanners. Labour reduction (because of faster throughput) can help offset the system costs, but “it’s difficult to quantify the improvement in the visitor experience,” Ellenbogen says.

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Larry Anderson Editor, SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SourceSecurity.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SourceSecurity.com's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

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