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.

Bulletproof backpacks, #2 pencils and iPads – Preparing for Back-to-School Season in the Era of Active Shooters

School Bus Stop

By Mike Ellenbogen, CEO at Evolv Technology

The impending Labor Day celebration not only signifies the end of summer but also the start of the back-to-school season. Whether school buses are already making their daily routes through your neighborhood or you’re still chasing your kids to finish those final pages in their assigned summer reading, there is a dark cloud lingering above the back-to-school season: active shooter prevention and protection.

In past years, those of us who are parents have become accustomed to the run-of-the-mill back-to-school shopping list. However, as we enter the 2018-2019 school year, we are facing purchase decisions we never thought we would have to make. The list we’re armed with doesn’t feel quite as light in our hands.

Bulletproof backpacks, clear backpacks and TuffyPacks. These are now the items that fill back-to-school shopping carts.

The active shooter incidents that targeted schools last year created a ripple effect that was felt around the country. With reports of Parkland still ringing in our ears, school boards, superintendents and principals spent the summer brainstorming and hypothesizing about potential solutions. While parents have been tracking down bulletproof school supplies, teachers have been immersed in active shooter training programs while school districts are spending millions installing bulletproof windows.

Undeniably, this is an issue that needs to be solved particularly as soft targets and large places where individuals gather continue to be targets for attackers. Today, attackers are looking to inflict as much pain and damage as possible with one attack. What’s more, in the U.S. in particular, the access to guns has made it easy for anyone with a grievance to act on it in a way that can affect hundreds of lives.

As school districts, local officials, parents and students rally together to put forth a solution, it’s difficult to get a grasp on where to start or what even qualifies as a good solution. Some schools are already equipped with metal detectors – should others follow suit? Are metal detectors practical for a school environment? What about AI, facial recognition and other innovative technologies? When is it an invasion of privacy?

As the need for solutions to combat active shooters in schools continues to grow, the security industry is responding two-fold on both the consulting side and the technology side. Organizations of all sizes have been motivated to deliver technology that will help make school a safer place. As a result, the number of solutions and innovations available to us seem endless.

Technology can help us do incredible things. It can analyze thousands of data points in seconds. It can help you see things from miles away. It can identify an object as something specific based on pre-programmed characteristics. Leveraging technology – whether it be cameras or sensors – and applying it to physical security, particularly as it relates to schools, can significantly improve the safety of the environment without creating a prison-like atmosphere.

One technology that cannot be ignored when discussing this topic is face recognition. Today many schools require students to carry photo ID badges which allow them to get onto campus and also enter various buildings on school property. The face recognition most schools rely on today is based on staff using their eyes to detect someone or something that’s “just not right”.  This is inconsistent, inherently fallible, and biased.  Automated face recognition technology doesn’t blink – it’s always on, it’s consistent and objective, rather than relying on human memory and attention. Face recognition can be instrumental in helping to enhance a school’s security posture by automatically identifying individuals who shouldn’t be on the premises, or others that pose a potential threat based on input from local law enforcement, teachers or school administration.

Technology however, is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s more than just leveraging the technology available today to solve this problem – it’s about fostering a conversation. While it is promising to see school districts around the country spring into action ahead of the coming school year, there is a need for much closer, tighter coordination between all involved parties.

Only when we take an integrated, holistic approach – that marries technology and the broader discussion – will we find ourselves with a proactive plan to combat this problem. At Evolv, we look forward to continuing to cultivate those partnerships and foster those much-needed conversations as we work to identify a solution to this ever-pressing problem.

Corporate Offices Deserve More Than the Same Old Thing in Security

Office Building Security

By Mike Ellenbogen, CEO, Evolv Technology –

In April, Nasim Najafi Aghdam walked onto YouTube Inc.’s Silicon Valley headquarters and shot three employees before killing herself, because she was angry about company policies she felt limited views of her videos. A few days later, Jimmy Lam walked into a United Parcel Service office in San Francisco and killed three and wounded two more before killing himself. In June, Jarrod Ramos killed five staffers of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis over a long-running dispute with the newspaper.

These are just three tragic signs of the growing scourge of mass shootings in corporate offices. While horrific school shootings have understandably dominated the news in recent years, workplace attacks have been more common. According to the FBI, 43 percent of mass shootings in the U.S. between 2000 and 2016 (the most recent data available) occurred in workplaces and other commercial buildings, compared to 22 percent in schools and on campuses.

Given the wide availability of guns and little chance of meaningful gun control, it’s safe to assume the frequency of such tragedies will continue to increase. Yet the tools available to companies that want to take proactive action remain unchanged: invest in metal detectors, and in the security staffers to operate them. While better than nothing, this combination of investments will never deliver the effective, affordable and operationally viable security systems companies deserve. Having been in the weapons detection business for over twenty years, here’s why I say this:

Metal Detectors:  Before I tear it down, I want to give this 90-year-old technology its due. If you want to find a small Saturday night special or box cutter, even a middle-of-the-road metal detector will find it. And metal detectors definitely deliver an effective deterrent. If one would-be killer decides to scrap his plan after seeing the metal detector at the front door of your company, the investment was worth it.

Screening with metal detectors is slow and cumbersome, they don’t provide security designed for the pace of life.

That said, metal detectors on the market today were not designed for the modern corporation. Most remain optimized for detecting small bits of metal, even if it causes long delays as workers queue up to empty their purses, pockets, backpacks and briefcases to be screened. With increasingly mobile, fluid workforces that include a high percentage of contractors and part-time workers, companies cannot afford the level of acuity that is required at an airport or other “hardened” facilities.

We took a very different approach. Along with optimizing for detection, we optimized for throughput and operational efficiency – in other words, a better visitor experience. Systems need to focus on actual threats, not every coin or key—and do so without requiring people to empty their pockets and purses, take off their shoes or remove laptops from their briefcases.

For today’s offices, embracing a risk-based security approach that recognizes the difference between low risk items like pen knives and actual threats, along with deploying high throughput screening systems is necessary to create lasting and effective security.

Screening with metal detectors is labor intensive and the units themselves are uninviting.

Staffing Up: Having more people working at checkpoints doesn’t necessarily make your environment safer, but it will make your company somewhat poorer. Capital cost—the price tag for the metal detection systems—is not the problem. According to the Department of Justice, a middle-of-the-line metal detector will cost around $3,500. The problem is that it typically takes at least three people to man each system — one to make sure individuals divested of anything metallic that might create a false alarm, another person to check the bags, and a third person to do secondary searches in the case of an alarm – legitimate or otherwise.

Venues, airports and office buildings need to consider technology that does the heavy lifting with fewer guards required. One that can differentiate between everyday objects and possible threats, where there’s no divestment required. A screening system that is powered by software results in more than an unspecified alarm. Instead, the location of the suspicious object is highlighted to facilitate faster, less guard intensive, and less intrusive alarm resolution.

Screening with metal detectors does not ready you for tomorrow’s threat.

And finally, there’s the question of future-proofing. I believe that any piece of equipment that operates as a stand-alone piece of hardware will have limited utility in the future. As of now, this describes nearly every metal detector on the market. Effective inspection systems today and in the future will need to be software-based, networked and have enough on-board computing power to watch out for a wider array of threats.

Read more here about six ways to prevent soft target attacks.