As Common as a Smoke Detector
Indoor detection of a gunshot may soon be part of campus value add
- By John Anderson
- August 01, 2020
Indoor gunfire detection has long been a
high-value but high-priced addition to a
complete security solution. Fortunately,
we are reaching a nexus of technology and
demand that will remove the largest barriers
to entry. As converging market forces and
shifting security priorities make such systems
as essential as smoke detectors, the next generation
of gunfire detection will provide
affordable, unobtrusive, and potentially lifesaving
monitoring, detection and alerting.
Statistically, the probability of an active shooter event occurring at
any given location is quite small. Even so, the devastation active
shooters cause is so horrific that being prepared for such events
demands attention and resources. A recent survey1 of top security
decision makers representing a wide range of workplaces, including
schools, offices, retail spaces, places of worship, manufacturing
facilities, and utilities, reported that an active shooter scenario was the
physical security threat that concerned them most.
In fact, OSHA Section 5 requires employers to furnish workplaces
that are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to
cause death or serious physical harm.” Sadly, active shooters are a “recognized
hazard” for many types of work environments. Failure to implement
sufficient risk mitigation programs can result in significant fines
from OSHA, as well as legal liability for injuries and deaths resulting
from an attack.
In response, as today’s systems integrators sell the value of technologies
like video surveillance, access control, security screening, emergency
communication systems and visitor management, they are including
information about how these solutions can perform in an active shooter
scenario to help mitigate risk and reduce harm. However, conversations
regarding indoor gunfire detection solutions have been reserved for only
the most high-profile, well-funded projects.
The historically high price for such systems is multi-faceted. For effective
coverage, a high number of detectors must be deployed throughout
a property, and the price adds up quickly. Labor-intensive monitoring
and alert notification services that support these systems are expensive.
Unlike many security technologies whose cost can be justified for the many
day-to-day use cases in which they deliver value, most gunshot detection systems
will never, hopefully, need to alarm and notify. These compounding concerns
make budgeting for their high price even harder to justify.
A New Wave of Hardware
The adoption of IoT and cloud computing in other industries has
brought a new wave of low-cost hardware powered by incredibly powerful
backends. This architecture, when applied to indoor gunshot detection,
can be paired with cutting edge AI engines to enable a new generation
of systems; systems that will redefine the capabilities and pricing of
hardware sensors, software, installation, and monitoring.
For gunfire detection systems, sensors that leverage the cloud to process
and analyze their signals can completely eliminate the need for additional
overhead hardware on-site. New detectors, as small and inconspicuous
as the smallest of smoke detectors, can be sold for hundreds,
rather than thousands, of dollars each. The cloud facilitates robust
mobile and web-based management software and installation tools,
offering all the advantages of a with minimal upfront costs and reasonable
annual service fees.
Installation costs are minimized, due to simplified network requirements
and “plug and play” connectivity of IoT sensor devices that can be
programmed and mapped from a mobile device or browser. Continuously
improving AI, powered by cloud computing allows for constant
adaptation and improvement of gunfire analysis, reducing or eliminating
the need for human involvement for monitoring and throughout the
alert notification sequence.
Technologies rooted in government and military applications have
limited the accessibility of gunfire detection systems. As the headlines
continue to be written and the question continues to be raised actions
must be taken to open up that access. IoT and cloud computing continue
to grow in their maturity and ubiquity, and they offer a lifeline to this
previously stifled sector. The ability to process a large number of high-speed,
high-precision inputs no longer has to drive up the cost of every
device in the system. Instead, each device can act as a simple extension
of the unlimited power in the cloud.
As the cost of indoor gunfire detection systems ceases to be an obstacle,
responsible stakeholders must consider inclusion of such technology as part
of a comprehensive active shooter security plan. Most have already invested
in physical security technologies to harden their facilities. Now it is time to
focus on strategies to save as many lives as possible, should an attack occur.
A gunfire detection system can notify authorities within seconds of
the first trigger pull and equip first responders with actionable intelligence to deploy immediately on site. Studies show that for every minute
that victims wait for treatment, survival is 10 percent, less likely. By
eliminating valuable minutes before 911 is contacted and providing clear
and concise data of a gunman’s location, number of shots fired and type
of weapon, gunfire detection systems can potentially slash the duration
of a mass shooting in half.2
A recent study by The Hartford of more than 1 million of its small
business policies showed that in a five-year period, twice as many customers
made insurance claims for loss due to theft, over fire claims.
Despite this, the use of camera systems — can deter and help resolve
cases of theft— reduces insurance premiums, while smoke detectors are
legally required in every room and hallway of all commercial buildings.
One explanation for this is obvious; smoke detectors can help save lives
and do so at a price point that’s affordable for any size organization.
Workplaces can’t afford not to have them.
An Area of Risk
Another explanation is the size of the risk. The risk of an active shooter,
much like the risk of a fire, is an area risk. A fire anywhere in the building
is a problem for the entire building. The same is true for an active shooter.
If one area of a building has no smoke detectors the building is considered
unsafe. Maximizing coverage and minimizing response time is critical to
an effective system deployment. Combining full coverage with accurate
real-time information allows for real-time response, so planning an
approach no longer becomes a guessing game for first responders.
Newer systems that tie directly to 911 call centers, or public safety
answering points, ensure that information flows freely to 911 operators.
This allows those first on the scene to quickly get their bearings and put
a plan into action.
On campuses of more than one building this can have a profound
impact on the duration of an event. Requiring the search of every building
or every floor of a building can take an incredible amount of time even
when executed by a highly skilled team. Providing a way to prioritize
those locations with accurate and unbiased information not only allows
the situation to be contained. This information can also be used to make
informed decisions on the safest areas and route innocent bystanders.
Extending these systems with integrations to video, mass notification
and access control can give a complete active shooter response plan with
minimal dependence on any one person’s actions. Active shooter situations
present a level of chaos that is difficult to train and prepare. First responders
and campus staff have seen in the past how a plan can fall apart at first
contact. Having as much of the response as possible executed through
these automated integrations can free up staff to handle other duties.
The next generation of indoor gunfire detection systems bring a lot to
the table. Given their ability to help save lives, with only a small incremental
increase in security budgeting, they’ll soon be an indispensable
element of every active shooter technology plan.
This article originally appeared in the July August 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.