Proactive Security for Active Shooter Situations
Intelligent security solutions take campus security from reactive to proactive
- By Clayton Brown
- August 01, 2019
You can’t stop something you don’t
see coming. So how can campus
security be anything but reactive to
active shooter situations? Intelligent
security might be the answer.
By combining the best insights of humans
and technology, campuses can establish a
proactive security strategy to mitigate the
impact of active shooter events, if not anticipate
and avoid them altogether. Advances in
AI, video analytics, sensors, and wearable
technology already provide the tools necessary
to make this a reality. What’s missing are
the intelligent insights and “awareness” to tie
See It Coming
There are many ways to detect an individual
on the “path to harm.” One way is by deploying
video cameras with enhanced video analytics
capabilities that include facial recognition,
license plate identification, loitering
and object left behind detection.
With increases in computing power, facial
recognition technology has become an
increasingly viable and affordable solution to
implement, allowing campuses to identify a
“person of interest” as they approach the
perimeter, and to issue an alert in advance of
a potential attack.
This might have helped in Parkland,
where the perpetrator was already on a
watch list. The suspect was known to be dangerous
enough not to be allowed to bring a
backpack on campus, and was expelled one
year before the shootings. Although a security
guard saw the shooter approach the campus
with a duffel bag that day, there was no video analysis to connect the dots to other data on file, and to warn
the staff that an expelled student was approaching campus in an
The 19-year-old was the subject of dozens of 911 calls and at least
two separate tips to the FBI. He also came to the attention of the
Florida Department of Children and Families. Despite warning signs
stretching back over a decade, no one intervened to stop the Valentine’s
License Plate Recognition is another tried and true method that
can identify “automobiles of interest” as they approach a facility. This
is typically done with higher accuracy than facial recognition and
gives campuses one more identity attribute to detect and monitor.
When these types of alerts are connected to an AI-powered risk
intelligence system, they can not only provide actional security alerts
in real time, but also help campuses take preventive measures to avert
potential attacks before they occur—activating access control systems
to lock the doors, and notifying the authorities that a dangerous suspect
is in the vicinity.
Keep the Human-in-the-Loop
Campuses are busy, dynamic places. Students, teachers, parents,
administrators, maintenance crews, security teams, and myriad other
visitors contribute to a vibrant, yet complex physical environment of
comings and goings.
Security technology offers countless innovations and efficiencies
for keeping an eye on things, but it cannot replace the human factor.
Modern “See Something, Say Something” applications are necessary
combine human-in-the-loop observations with other sensing and
detecting technologies. For instance, teachers and security resource
officers are still needed inputs to a sound security procedures. They
can not only provide reports of suspicious or concerning behavior
but also are on the ground and can serve as eyes on a developing situation.
Armed with mobile devices and applications that enable them
to quickly report and record activity, campuses will be more informed
The goal is for technology to empower and augment human intuition
and observation in order to help stop threats before they become
It Takes a Village
Not only can a community work together to prevent a crisis, but it
can stay together to improve the response and mitigation. Mobile and
tablet applications can be used to improve mustering to account for
people in an active shooter situation. They can provide one-touch
panic buttons for those in distress. And, with actionable guidance
being delivered to all those on campus on their mobile devices, they
could be directed to safe shelter locations until the coast is clear. It
could also offer visibility into a student’s status in the instance that an
active shooter situation has taken place. With wearable devices, the
potential for fast responses and communications is greatly improved.
In active shooter situations, every second counts.
Lockdown during an active shooter situation is undoubtedly one of
those times. Fortunately, technology has pushed the functionality of
smart phones to an even more intuitive form factor: the Apple Watch.
Today’s smart watches have a new and critical benefit: life safety.
With the tap of a wrist, a security officer who “sees something”
could implement a lockdown procedure by adjusting permissions
for an entire campus. Based on location, classroom doors could be
locked to protect students sheltering in place, or selectively
unlocked to give first responders immediate access. (They could
also be locked to isolate a suspect and limit the risks of further
harm). This emphasizes the importance of AI-driven and riskadaptive
access control systems where intelligence can significantly
improve life safety.
Unfortunately, the Virginia Beach shooting is a timely example.
According to Fox News, “Police responding to the deadly mass shooting
at a Virginia Beach municipal building were unable to confront
the gunman at one point because they didn’t have the key cards needed
to open doors on the second floor. Over the radio, they desperately
pleaded for the electronic cards and talked of bringing in a
sledgehammer, an explosive charge or other means of breaking down
Emergency responders were locked out of the emergency they
were supposed to be managing. Independent of response times, if
there is no quick ability to automatically or remotely modify access
permissions according to elevated risk levels, how can they do their
job, and help to save peoples’ lives?
Having a way to adjust facility permissions from a mobile device
during an emergency situation can solve this problem. Further, riskadaptive
access control solutions allow facilities to adjust permissions
in real-time based on the risk situation and the individual’s credentials,
without giving carte-blanche access to people who otherwise
don’t need it.
On average, five minutes lapse between active shooter detection and
emergency first response. In those five minutes, the situation evolves
quickly—but too often first responders are left in the dark. Literally,
guessing and reacting.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Video surveillance systems, typically
siloed from police and EMS systems, now have the ability to be integrated
with third-party communication and security solutions to
provide a common operating picture, or COP.
With a COP in place, campus safety and emergency responders
can monitor all security events from a single, centralized platform,
where all the inputs and outputs are normalized to speak the same
language—enabling teams to go from manually “collating” siloed
information to a fully integrated view providing actionable intelligence.
We move from simply mass notification to mass cooperation.
There are paths to harm and paths to safety. Using mobile applications,
students, and teachers can be notified of an incident, and prescribed
the most relevant safety procedures based on their relative
location and proximity. Additionally, smart buildings outfitted with
intelligent sensors can monitor and analyze activities, illuminating
the optimal path to safety with lighting and signage.
It’s almost impossible to stop something bad from happening
before you know about it. But you can certainly be better prepared to
respond if and when it happens. The good news is that technology is
elevating our awareness—and giving us new tools to take action as
necessary. And hopefully one day, it will empower us to stop having
this conversation at all.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.