Tragically, in the world we now live, mass shootings and gun violence are epic concerns not only in schools, but Big Box retail, hospitals, municipal buildings, festivals, sporting events, concert venues, and just about anywhere crowds gather or work. The number of incidents is not acceptable and is truly startling. There are many societal and mental health issues that can cause these events and their importance in solving this issue is critical. However, this article will be focused on the technology side of preventing mass shooting events.

Going beyond metal detectors

The best way to eliminate mass shootings is to detect weapons before they ever enter, or as they enter, a building. Metal detectors have been effectively dispatched and used to identify weapons on a person entering a building. The major drawbacks of metal detectors are the cost to operate them, several security guards per machine, and the resultant bottlenecks which cause limited throughput at the entrances.

The technology eliminates the need to empty pockets and allows backpacks, luggage bags, and purses to be scanned

New technology on the market uses millimeter wave detection to quickly scan someone walking through a portal. The technology eliminates the need to empty pockets and allows backpacks, luggage bags, and purses to be scanned at the same time as the person. People can walk through the portals side by side to reduce bottlenecks. Additionally, the technology reduces the number of guards needed, reducing overall costs. 

Taking out the human element

The first step in surviving a mass shooting is being situationally aware. Immediately accepting and understanding the sounds as gunshots is paramount. Just a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death during an active shooter situation. Gunshot detection can eliminate the fear factor, which in many cases temporarily paralyses those involved and causes precious seconds to pass before action is taken. By using a trusted, effective gunshot detection solution properly partnered with a monitoring system can eliminate the human factor of indecision and delay. Further, coupled with a VMS camera system, it can visually verify the situation as an emergency, identify the shooter, and provide valuable, accurate information to first responders — all within just a few seconds.

The state of gunshot detection technology

Gunshot detection technology has been explored and developed by the military since WWI, but commercially it has only been around for a few years. Such detection systems range from wide area coverage to room-to-room coverage. Most are acoustic based (using microphones) to listen for the sound of a gunshot, record the sound, then analyse it with sophisticated software to determine if it is, indeed, a gunshot. Many years have been invested fine-tuning the software to differentiate between a gunshot and other loud noises. Eliminating ambient noise is very difficult during this process. The locations and venues mentioned at the outset of this article inherently have loud, ambient noise. This, in most cases, causes systems to give a false-positive or to even fail to detect the gunshot. In turn, it can send unverified or wrong information to First Responders and Security and cause havoc of unwarranted fear and actions. To help increase the accuracy of the detection of an actual gunshot, many systems have added infrared sensors.

Many systems use backroom or cloud servers to run the necessary analysis

In addition to the challenge of false positives, many systems use backroom or cloud servers to run the necessary analysis. This not only increases the cost of the system but may increase the notification time of the actual gunshot. Integration of this data to alarm, notification, and camera systems is difficult and costly. And experts say none of these systems are yet 100 percent effective.

Enter ultrasonic sensor technology

Fortunately, new technology is emerging in the industry. Technology which can eliminate the false-positives and reduce the cost by doing away with the expensive software, servers, cloud servers, and human intervention. This technology uses non-acoustical ultrasonic sensors to detect the frequency of a gunshot concussive wave created by a bullet, leaving the chamber along with the explosion wave force. Because these sensors are not acoustic (microphone), they will not pick up the ambient noise like other systems. In addition, the ultrasonic sensors only detect the gunshot concussive wave within the determined frequency. This also helps eliminate confusion caused by loud noises such as thunder, cars backfiring, large boxes being dropped, etc. An added bonus is ultrasonic sensors are not acoustic, therefore they are never listening or recording, the sensors only operate when there is an actual gunshot; hence, they’re completely non-invasive.

The ultrasonic sensors only detect the gunshot concussive wave within the determined frequency

Finally, these non-acoustic sensors do much of the work through an onboard processor, no backroom or cloud servers are needed. Integration to systems such as VMS, Access Control, Alarm Panels, etc. requires minimal effort. This allows existing security systems to be integrated with gunshot detection, creating a low-cost, highly effective overall solution. Protecting our children, loved ones, employees, and customers is a monumental challenge for any security professional. Using newly available technology, combined with existing security infrastructure, we have the ability to add on layers of safety to help reduce the tragedy of gun violence and mass shootings.

This article was co-written by Brad McMullen, General Manager at 3xLOGIC, and Brad Jarrett, CTO at Active Guardian.

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