The Mass Shooting Epidemic: Find the Needle, Leave the Straw
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.
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.
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.
TSA Sickout Creates Opportunities to Improve Airport Security
By Bill McAteer, Account Executive at Evolv Technology –
Prior to the government shutdown being temporarily lifted, a TSA ‘sickout’ resulted in a disruption of service that had a direct impact on the security and experience of today’s travelers. This provides a good lesson on how we can shape the future of airport security.
Driven by the prospect of continuing to work without pay, more than 10 percent of TSA agents protested by holding a sickout. To compound matters, many TSA agents also chose to leave the industry entirely, finding new jobs during the shutdown.
The protests had a direct impact on security and the customer experience as the lack of screeners forced airports such as Miami International and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to shut down some screening areas, causing longer lines and longer delays.
Here’s the reality – the majority of travelers dread airport security as it is. The thought of long lines, combined with potentially invasive searches on them personally by TSA personnel, creates angst for many travelers.
But what this problem exposed is that our current model of airport security is broken. Security shouldn’t be beholden to workforce issues and performance concerns. Airports need to use this opportunity to modernize the infrastructure, their processes and the screening solutions supporting their security workforce.
In addition to existing checkpoints, technology such as advanced sensors, AI and biometrics can be deployed at the landside area of the airport to dramatically improve the customer experience of security, while improving security itself.
In this model, travelers walk through portable security gates before reaching terminal security. The advanced screening solutions can detect explosives and firearms in a rapid manner – without any of the false positives from items like keys, phone and belt buckles. And, as threats evolve, solutions on the landside area of the airport become much more important.
These technologies have also proven incredibly effective in employee screening deployments at airports such as Oakland International.
In addition, advanced weapon and bomb protection improves security throughput dramatically – with fewer requirements for manual labor. This allows airports to allocate security personnel to where they can have the most visible and positive effect – and helps eliminate customer experience concerns caused by workforce issues.
There’s no doubt that TSA agents were in a difficult situation, being forced to work without pay. But this broader issue has shined a light on the ongoing security problem that airports struggle with. Advanced screening technology can be used in critical areas throughout an airport, helping balance security needs with the requirements to provide superior customer service.
Photo Credit: Floris Van Cauwelaert
Evaluating the Need for Weapons Screening at Performing Arts Venues
By Neil Sandhoff, Vice President of North America –
Determining the need for a weapons policy and a threat detection solution at performing arts centers involves more than the security director to make purchasing and implementation decisions. From budget, policy and patron experience, the leadership team must work together to organize, evaluate, plan and implement and communicate such an important initiative.
This is entirely understandable. It’s one thing to work with a director of security and their technical staff, who are measured on their ability to keep employees, customers and other visitors safe. But involving the front-of-the-house team and human resources, who are responsible for creating the best customer and employee experience possible, is an even higher bar. A bad experience–say, delays or pat-down searches–can have a direct downward impact on sales. So if the front-of-the-house thinks a weapons screening technology is a bad idea, it probably won’t be seriously considered.
At least that’s how it has been. I’ve been focused on providing security solutions for over 15 years, but am now seeing the first meaningful shift in the relationship between security and the patron experience teams. Given the rise of senseless lone-shooter attacks in the U.S., many venues are coming to believe – or are at least are willing to entertain the possibility – that patrons will tolerate reasonable inconveniences for added security as long as it doesn’t degrade the overall experience too much. In fact, some of our customers believe their patrons want to make that trade-off. They want to know the people in charge of the facility they’re visiting understand the nagging “could it happen here” feeling they have on a night out.
This is especially true with performing arts venues, given the horrific attacks like those that took place in Manchester, England and Las Vegas, Nevada. In fact, executives at some of these venues are increasingly stretching their purview beyond the front door and into the street where people wait in line for popular events. Due to the increase in terror attacks using rented trucks and other vehicles, such as in Nice, France and Barcelona, Spain, venues are looking for ways to get people off the street as quickly as possible and into the safety of their facility.
The fact that patrons must already stop to hand over or scan a ticket creates a natural opportunity to do screening in a way that won’t cause delays. We did a time study at a Broadway theater earlier this year and found that the ticket-taking process typically takes around five to 10 seconds per person in a live environment. If we can help the venue screen the patron in that time or less, everybody wins.
Unlike many pro sports stadiums, which have had checkpoints and metal detectors for decades, many of these smaller, arts-related venues are adding physical security for the first time. Many don’t even have security chiefs. And yet performing arts is one of our fastest-growing segments. If you work for a performing arts venue or any other type of company that is looking to create a security strategy as quickly and efficiently as possible, here are a few best practices:
Get out of the security silo, fast: In the old days, the trick to implementing physical security was to work with the head of security and let him or her try to overcome the natural resistance from other factors in their environment. But we’ve found it works best when representatives from the front-of-the-house, finance, facilities and human resources, were involved in the sales process, ideally from the initial conversation. The security director provided a clear understanding to all the leadership team the consequences of an active shooter and suicide bomber in the facility and the solutions available to deter or prevent such a terrible event.
The more buy-in, the better: As security becomes a higher priority for a company, it makes sense to expand the number of seats at the table when considering new security solutions. The most celebrated accomplishments in implementing security screening at Performing Arts Centers I have witnessed involved the inclusion of the entire leadership team from the beginning. The CEO needs to bring their teams together and keep engaged throughout the process, clearly identifying their end-state goals and understanding of the tradeoffs. In one very successful scenario we witnessed, the chief executive officer directly led the process which involved security, human resources, front-of-house, facilities and finance to drive towards the optimal solution.
Five Factors to Improve Today’s Physical Security Screening Experience
By Chris McLaughlin, Vice President, Global Solutions, Evolv Technology –
Security screening technology is often measured by three factors – detection, alarm rates and throughput. At the macro level, these three metrics give a broad sense of whether or not a device will improve an overall security process. However, these three pieces don’t tell the whole story. Two other factors, closely tied to throughput, flesh out the overall security trade space. They are “touch rate” and “divestiture.”
- The traditional factors – detection, alarm rates and throughput.
- The five “must consider” factors – detection, alarm rates and throughput, along with touch rate and divestiture.
Only when the entire set of factors is considered as a whole, can the effectiveness and efficiency of the device be evaluated. In today’s world where physical security screening has become the “norm” in more and more of the places we gather, the latter two factors become increasingly important — to find a purpose-built device and the right process.
The age-old adage “there are two sides to every coin” speaks volumes. While “throughput” is important to security operators, it’s the combination of throughput, touch rate, and divestiture that matters to your customer.
With this is mind, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) created the TSA Precheck Program, the focus was specifically on two things beyond detection: 1) touching people less and 2) letting them leave everyday items on or in their pockets and in bags. While “throughput” wasn’t the central tenant of the program, it was believed that doing the first two things for a growing population of travelers would ultimately speed up throughput for all travelers.
When the program was created its authors wondered whether these two things would be material enough to make a difference in the physical screening experience. More than half a decade later, there is a clear differentiation between the highly customer-focused TSA Precheck practice and “regular” screening, underscoring the point that customers place high value on an improved experience.
Customer experience matters.
Not all customer environments will be the same; each will have slightly different objectives. Some will be in high threat locations; others will not. Regardless of the customer or their venue, the following things will always ring true. First, your physical screening system must detect threats at a high level and with limited alarms. Second, your physical screening system must do this in a way that keeps people moving, minimizes physical touching and allows them to walk at their pace without losing control of their belongings. Finally, in a world of limited or shrinking budgets, your system must be able to deliver efficiencies – either in terms of hard budget savings or repurposed security resources.
If you’re reading this blog, it’s possible that you’re implementing a comprehensive security screening solution for the first time. Or, perhaps, you’ve already implemented something in response to growing threats over the past decade. In either case, I encourage you not to start at square one. Why not learn from the organization that has been the face of post 9-11 security for almost two decades? Certainly, the TSA has made mistakes. And, thankfully, they have also made significant advances. You can learn from both, and you don’t have to spend a decade to do it.
Consider the five factors discussed above and evaluate your overall security process through a customer lens. Is the technology in your current process, or the one you are considering, purpose built to meet today’s security concerns while also preserving the culture, look, and feel of your venue? If it isn’t, you have options. There will always be two sides to this coin, but there are ways to ensure that both shine for decades to come. Contact us to find out how.
Read more here about balancing improving security with customer experience at Gillette Stadium.
Note: To underscore the importance of the customer experience, I highlighted the tangible changes to TSA Precheck screening. It’s important to acknowledge the foundation of the program is built on the concepts of trust and access, and the public’s willingness to share personal information for the benefit of this streamlined screening experience.