The Mass Shooting Epidemic: Find the Needle, Leave the Straw

Haystack close up

By Anil Chitkara, President, Evolv Technology, Inc.

I spent the last month traveling from East to West Coast of the U.S., meeting with security professionals and venue operators to discuss their perspectives on threats to their people and facilities. I met with people representing a wide range of venues including hospitals, casinos, entertainment venues, banks, office buildings, religious institutions, and professional sports teams. The discussions were illuminating.

Source: Vox Media
Source: Vox Media

The primary perceived threat is someone using a firearm to perpetrate a mass shooting. Given the prevalence of active shooters in the U.S., this concern is not surprising. There have been 2,040 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, according to Vox Gun Stats. The locations of these shootings are difficult to predict – they can happen anywhere. In the past 14 days alone, the news was filled with stories about the shootings at the Chabad of Poway in California, UNC Charlotte in North Carolina, and STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado.

The security community is well aware of the problem. Millions of dollars have been spent implementing “right of bang” detection solutions. Once the gunshots begin, what are the measures to minimize casualties, neutralize the threat, and tend to the injured? Automated door locks, bulletproof windows, and run/hide/fight drills are among the typical “right of bang” solutions. This week I got an email solicitation for a backpack with an NIJ Level III-A bulletproof protective panel. Nothing against the National Institute of Justice, but I don’t want to look for their certification when buying school supplies. The refrain I hear again and again is that there has to be a better solution.

Gray Backpack

We need to invest in “left of bang” solutions to prevent the bullets from flying in the first place. As I discussed this with security professionals, it was clear that the current solutions simply don’t work for most visitor-focused venues. Walk-through metal detectors are very good at detecting metal. They detect not only guns and knives, but belt buckles, keys, coins, and cell phones as well. Unfortunately, most venues are not at all interested detecting people’s phones and belt buckles. Metal detection of such small, innocuous nuisance items slows down the process and impedes both flow and visitor experience.

What I heard loud and clear was that the majority of venues do not want traditional checkpoints. No white bowls. No guards with latex gloves. No long lines. They recognize that the vast majority of people who are coming to their facilities are coming to work, play, pray, eat, sleep, or visit. They pose no threat to the venue or others inside. Security teams know there are only a select few who may pose a threat; these are the small number of visitors at whom venue operators want to take a “closer look.” And therein lies the dilemma: how do you treat the vast majority of visitors as the non-threatening people they are while pulling out those very few for additional scrutiny?

Much progress has been made in the world of sensors and software. As evidenced by our cell phones, sensors have become smaller, faster, better, and cheaper. Software has greatly improved to capture, move, and process massive amounts of data. Machine learning and artificial intelligence have allowed us to gain meaningful insights from data quickly and with relatively high precision. How can we leverage these technological advances to improve security?

The security professionals with whom I met are looking for security technology that allows people to easily go about their normal pace of life, while identifying those few individuals for a closer look. CCTV cameras can help with this approach but they are primarily focused as right of bang solutions. For the past three years, we’ve been working with organizations to deploy solutions that detect potential threats without impeding the flow of people entering a venue. In the past 18 months alone, ten million people have passed through our security systems; of these, a small fraction have been identified as carrying a concealed threat.

Relying on 100-Year-Old Technology is Not the Answer to Stop Today’s Active Shooter

Metal Detector Lines

By Mike Ellenbogen, CEO

One of the indelible lessons seared into our consciousness over the last 20 years is that every public gathering and event is now a soft target. From concerts to prayers – there are few places that would be considered sanctuary against the evils perpetrated by mass shooters.

According to the Gun Violence archive, there were more than 340 mass shootings in the U.S. alone in 2018 – nearly one a day. While there remains disagreement on a legislative solution to the mass shooting problem, one thing has become clear – facilities that have a high degree of visible security measures are less likely to become a target.

Visual deterrents, like metal detectors, can be incredibly effective in preventing attacks from occurring, but the technology has had minimal improvement since the walkthrough metal detector was invented more than 90 years ago.

Doesn’t our modern problem deserve a more modern solution? It should be possible to deter and prevent mass casualty events like what happened in Las Vegas without requiring every single person to take off their belt and take out their keys before entering a building?

According to a recent report, organizations will spend more than $1.5 Billion on metal detectors in the next five years. This doesn’t even account for the massive labor costs required to adequately staff these devices to ensure heightened security. Nor does it account for the impact on visitor experience – at some point, your patrons will grow tired of having to wait in line to then strip down and hold their hands in the air to show that their phone isn’t a weapon.

Metal detectors represent the security approach of the past – the future of prevention is a combination of better sensors, AI and biometrics that helps immediately identify all manner of threats without compromising visitor convenience.

As today’s threats grow more menacing, the technologies preventing the next tragedy need to evolve as well. Here are four primary ways that the we can improve upon the metal detector:

Superior Detection at the Speed of Life

Metal detectors are pretty descriptive – they detect metal objects.  Determining whether the objects present a threat requires additional layers of screening – and more importantly, they don’t account for newer threats that have emerged in recent years, including explosives, plastic weapons, and more.

Using a combination of active millimeter wave and electromagnetic sensors, solutions such as the Evolv Edge are able to detect both weapons and explosives, while avoiding the nuisance alarms that make lines slow down so people can remove keys from their pockets.

People and Bags; Bags and People

While security and prevention should stand alone, the reality is that each needs to be balanced with customer convenience. Stringent requirements to enter a public facility may increase security, but if the approach is too onerous, there may not be an event to protect as the customers stay at home.

Metal detectors are often accompanied by ancillary screening measures – like X-Rays or even hand searches – to account for bags and other items.  We want a facility to allow people to be people – so they can walk through the checkpoint at a regular pace without pausing, stopping or posing.  They can even walk through with their bags and are not required to remove materials from bags or their person.

Individual Screening – Eliminating Single File Requirements 

One of the biggest detriments of the walk through metal detector is that crowds need to line up and filter through in single file. If the person in front of you triggers an alert, then the entire line slows down as that person receives secondary screening.

It needs to be possible to screen individuals within crowds, pinpointing individual threats within a free-flow environment. This allows for screening on a more natural basis for crowds entering a facility, improving customer satisfaction while ensuring that everyone is vetted for weapons of all kinds.

Improving Guard Effectiveness 

As we discussed above, the walk through metal detector requires significant human intervention – each alert requires physical intervention for additional screening.  Whether it’s a pat down, or the use of wand technology guards need to manually vet persons of interest after each alert.

Solutions exist that are designed to help guards do their job more effectively – which is protect the customers of the facility they’re guarding. Potential threats are identified with a picture of the person who set off the alert, as well as a clear indication of where the threat exists on the body. This expedites secondary searches, while providing guards with actionable intelligence that could be the difference in preventing a mass casualty event.

The technologies used to try to detect and prevent the next mass casualty event are outdated.  Metal detectors were not designed to handle modern facilities or crowds. Security investment needs to be focused on more capable security systems that allow for fluid detection and a better visitor experience.

Learn more about Evolv Edge here.

A Citizen’s Guide to Stopping the Next Active Shooter

Holiday Marching Band

By Juliette Kayyem, Former Assistant Secretary Department of Homeland Security, and Advisor to Evolv Technology –

It’s getting to be holiday season, a time for Thanksgiving Day parades, New Year’s Eve celebrations and other big public events. Given the almost weekly news of another mass shooting, many people—particularly parents—are no doubt thinking more about whether to just stay home given this year’s horrific events.

As a career security professional and the mother of three school-age kids, I understand the impulse. But we can’t go there. The truth is that we can’t hide our way to solving this problem. For starters, the costs are unacceptably high. Hunkering down reduces the richness of our lives as individuals and weakens the cultural fabric that holds our society together—at a time when it needs some serious strengthening. If anything, we should be making an extra effort to participate in the communal celebrations that bond us together in our open, free way of life.

I’m not suggesting we throw caution to wind, and seek out large crowds in vulnerable “soft-target” locations, in a reckless attempt to “not let the bad guys win.” On the contrary, I’m suggesting we each adopt a smarter, more engaged attitude about our role in protecting ourselves and others. We’ve been fortunate in this country to be able to consider our safety a right—something we expect our world-class law enforcement institutions, from the local cops to the Department of Homeland Security, to provide. Now is the time to admit that this right comes with responsibilities. We can debate gun control, mental illness treatment and other contributing factors of mass shootings forever (and probably will). But anyone who is serious about preventing the next mass casualty attack can best start by changing his or her own daily behavior.

Here are some guidelines:

“See something, say something” is not a marketing campaign. Barring the most obvious threats, most of us are conditioned to err on the side of inaction—either out of embarrassment, respect for other people’s privacy or, if we’re honest, in the hope that someone else will notify law enforcement of suspicious activity. This needs to change. Think of all the cases in which disconcerting actions or behaviors by a shooter were known to the community around him.  The truth is that a vigilant citizenry is one of the most effective ways to identify potential shooters before they act, and to prevent or quickly respond to attacks in the critical moments when they occur.

Talk to your kids. We all want to protect our kids from life’s dangers and evils. But they are probably already scared. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report, more than 75 percent of people between 15 and 21 say fear of mass shootings was a “significant source of stress”. So, take the time to make a family safety plan before attending an event, and talk about the best ways to protect oneself if the unthinkable does occur, such as what they should do in an active shooter situation or if anyone sees something suspicious. This way, you’re making it clear that you’re not sending them blindly into a potentially dangerous world. You’re empowering them. Just as teaching our kids to wear seatbelts and bike helmets doesn’t keep them out of cars or off bikes, educating them on active shooter risks will allow them to worry less and enjoy themselves more.

Encourage, rather than complain, about the need for common-sense security measures – I hear lots of parents bemoan the fact that our kids live in a world where active shooter drills at school are a fact of life. But that’s where we are. Encourage your kids to pay close attention during drills, and talk to them about the experience. If it sounds like the exercise was ineffective, say something to school officials. The same goes for security checkpoints, whether at airports or in corporate offices.

Help organizers keep events safe – Our job as citizens at public celebrations is to enjoy ourselves. But we can also educate ourselves as to the proper protocols for event security, so we can notify event organizers if we see gaps. At parades or marathons, for example, the gathering place and the area beyond the finish line should be secured from the general public. Only people with badges, tags or some other authorization should be admitted. There should be a reasonable number of boots on the ground along the route, in terms of law enforcement at the event.

Keep your head – The active shooter problem is by no means trivial. More than 339 people have been killed and another 1,251 have been injured so far this year. And yet, the odds that you or a loved one will become one of these statistics is infinitesimal. Seventeen years after 9/11, I know couples who insist on flying separately on family vacations so the kids could not be orphaned by a terrorist attack. This is not necessary.

Do have fun. Our family likes a parade and a party as much as anyone, and we will be attending as many as possible this holiday season. The same goes for the people at Evolv. For too long, our society — and our industry — has thought about security as a wall to separate us from potential threats. Evolv’s goal is not to scare you, but to create technologies that allow us to gather as we like, with peace of mind. By following a few simple rules, each of us can also do our part to staying safe.

Read more about Examining Today’s Threat Vectors to Address Tomorrow’s Security Threats.