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.

Security Screening in the 21st Century: An Interview with Mark Sullivan, Former U.S. Secret Service Director

Man with bags in building

By Melissa Cohen, Vice President of Marketing –

Earlier this month, I sat down with Mark Sullivan, security industry consultant, former director of the United States Secret Service from 2006 to 2013, and board member for Evolv Technology. We discussed how the threat landscape has shifted in recent years and what people screening should look like today and in the future.

Melissa Cohen: Mark, you have an extensive background in security and have watched firsthand as security threats have evolved over the years. Is the world getting more dangerous? How has the shift in the threat landscape enabled attackers to carry out more mass casualty events?

Mark Sullivan: I understand why many people have anxiety about our world today and perceive it as becoming more dangerous. All too often we are witnessing the horror of terrorist attacks occurring around the world. In our own country we experienced the devastation and pain caused by mass shootings at schools, at the workplace and even houses of worship. These attacks are happening in open areas where historically we have felt safe and there wasn’t a need for any type of security.

Mental health issues, hate, radicalization and the ease of acquiring weapons, in most instances high powered shoulder weapons, has created a situation where they’ve kind of spawned off of each other. Potential attackers may see what other people have done with weapons and decide that’s not a bad way to go. They might even calculate that they won’t make it out alive – and if you’re dealing with someone who’s not concerned with being killed that’s a difficult adversary to stop.

MC: Given these threats, what types of businesses are you seeing conduct more people screening and how has this evolved? Are there any types of organizations for which screening is not a good option?

MS: There are a variety of businesses and organizations I have worked with that are concerned with the safety of their employees, congregations, patrons, fans, clients and contractors. They are also concerned with their brand and want to protect that as well. Today more and more buildings are checking your ID, taking your picture, directing you to an elevator and controlling where that elevator is going. This level of screening wasn’t happening 20 years ago and becomes more common every day.

However, for many types of businesses like hotels, it’s difficult and cost prohibitive to control every single exterior door with a security officer or to conduct sweeps of every piece of luggage entering the hotel.  We all want to feel safe, but what is the impact of securing every door, or the process of screening every piece of luggage?  And at what cost to the visitor experience. For example, would it increase hotel room prices? What kind of process would that create for checking in? Any organization has to weigh the risks to experience with the benefits of enhanced security. Something like TSA PreCheck is a great model for cutting down on the risk, but we do need to streamline the process for people who don’t need to be screened every single time.

MC: Along those lines, what should the screening experience look like for consumers and organizations?

MS: I think there’s a fine line between doing nothing and recommending we hunker down because there’s a perceived threat or boogeyman around every corner. We live in a democracy. People want their freedom. We don’t want to deal with security every place we go.

From the consumer’s perspective, 20 years ago, we never gave any thought to having screening at a professional sporting event. Now you go to a college game and you’re screened. What’s unthinkable not long ago is now commonplace. Today, part of the experience of going to a show or a game is planning for how long it will take to go through the scanning process. Similarly, from a business or venue’s perspective, they’re looking at their overall security plan and constantly reevaluating whether they need to have screening for their Broadway show or cruise ship or at the train station. For these “nontraditional” types of venues, it’s a matter of choosing the right technology and the right level of hassle-free screening to still allow for a superior visitor and employee experience.

MC: Do you think society can afford to not have more screening? What’s the right way to go about it to balance experience, risks and the changing threat landscape?

MS: Well, it’s really not just about having people physically screened. It’s also about having the appropriate information or intelligence to make informed risk management decisions. For example, in a business setting, many companies today are doing more to monitor not only what is occurring outside of their business but also within their business.  One of the biggest risks to a business or organization today is the “Insider risk or threat.” Many businesses are continually updating their databases on employees to keep an eye out for potential risks and watching what they do on social media. There’s so much internal and external data and information companies need to be aware of now.

For all businesses and organizations considering employee screening, it’s important to work with the right security partner who understands there are different types of threats, and different mitigation strategies for each individual threat. You have to consider people, brand, profile, policy, procedures – there is no one silver bullet that will protect you fully. You need a robust security plan, and the appropriate technology to support it.

Three Questions Security Directors Need to Ask Before the Next Soft-Target Event

Manchester UK Skyline

By Anil Chitkara, President, Evolv Technology –

It’s been more than a year since a suicide bomb was detonated in the foyer of the Manchester Arena. The blast killed twenty-two concert-goers and injured hundreds more. Since then, I have met with security directors from concert halls, stadiums, arenas, sports teams, and convention centers around the world. These security directors are typically asked three questions by their venue owners and managers:

1. How vulnerable are we to this type of attack? 2. What are other venues doing to prevent this type of attack? 3. How can we prevent this type of attack from happening in our venue?

The short answer is, there’s still more to be done.

A typical reaction after the Manchester event was for security directors to reach out to the security consulting industry to help them address these questions. This often included a new or refreshed threat assessment and vulnerability analysis that resulted in identification of security gaps. People, processes, and technology were then evaluated in various combinations to close those gaps.

An initial focus on upskilling people typically includes training to make guards and employees more vigilant and aware of the signs of trouble. This is a quick way to reinforce important skills. Venues will conduct formal internal training, either by bringing in an outside firm or working closely with law enforcement through various programs they offer. Having trained staff is an important part of the overall security plan.

Next, many of these venues step up contact with various sources of intelligence to help them understand and identify the threats to their area, their building, and, if applicable, the people performing at their site. These sources stream in from various federal, state, and local agencies or fusion centers, through a range of companies providing intelligence-as-a-service, and through the venue’s own network of individual contacts. For example, the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in more than 100 U.S. cities and similar international intelligence bodies are a critical component in this fight against terrorism.

The third key piece involves making changes to processes and technology. These may include fortifying the perimeter with bollards, adding “eyes on” such as CCTV cameras, or improving visitor screening operations. Process and technology changes, implemented effectively, can multiply the available forces, enabling significant improvements to both the effectiveness and efficiency of the overall security operation.

Decisions about which security technology should be deployed and what processes to wrap around them are highly dependent on the threats and vulnerabilities of a specific venue. There are some key considerations in this decision:

How vulnerable are we to this type of attack?
A key question is: what threats are we most concerned about? Based on physical layout, crowd concentration, and location, some venues are most concerned with person-borne threats and others are concerned with vehicles used as weapons. The threat of an individual bringing a firearm or explosive device to do harm to a crowd of people is high on most lists. Typically, threats are identified and prioritized within a logical framework including the probability of a given type of event, the impact on the venue and its visitors, and the vulnerability based on current security measures.

What are our operational realities?
One comment we consistently hear loud and clear is that a traditional airport or courthouse “mag and bag” checkpoint security process isn’t a viable solution. Security leaders do not want to create an environment where visitors or fans are required to remove all the items from their pockets and place them into a small white bowl, walk through a screening device, and then re-collect their items and go on their way. A manual search of every bag also significantly slows down the screening process and is intrusive to visitors.

What are the gaps in our security plan?
Firearms and explosive devices concealed on an individual are two concerns high on the list of most security directors. There are thousands of people converging on these venues in a short period of time, often just before the start of a show or beginning of a game. To effectively and efficiently screen each visitor for these types of threats is impractical, if not impossible, using traditional technologies – often a mix of walk through metal detectors, manual bag checks and guards trained to identify known trouble makers. For some venues, it’s canines for explosive detection. Evolv has combined all three of these capabilities into a single high-speed device.

Our formula is simple:

  • Find the threats we care most about: explosive devices and firearms
  • Make the visitor experience as unobtrusive as possible
  • Ensure throughput between 500 to 1,000 people per hour (per security lane)
  • Make it easy for guards or officers to use
  • Ensure it is flexible so that it can be used at multiple locations and in different operational configurations to screen different groups of people

Arenas, performance centers, and stadiums have begun deploying new security screening technologies such as the Evolv Edge, and even more are conducting pilots to understand how best to deploy them. However, too few have taken proactive steps to effectively protect their visitors and fans from today’s threats. Let’s focus on detecting the threats we know are out there.

Learn more about what Gillette Stadium is doing to safely secure its own venue.