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.

Tech’s Next Imperative: Physical Security

Security Camera

The following is an excerpt from a Forbes article penned by Evolv board member Alan Cohen. You can read the full article here

The active shooter problem is one of the scariest and most intractable facets of public life. While mass killings represent but a fraction of total gun deaths, they tear apart the fabric of our open society — transforming entertainment venues, airports, houses of worship, office buildings, and schools into potentially instant war zones.

Why haven’t new methods or new technologies been driven to the forefront of protecting society and our “soft targets”?

Our safety technology must evolve. 

In 1925, Gerhard Fischer was granted the first patent for a portable metal detector. For the most part, variants of metal detector technology have been the primary scanning security for venues and transit points worldwide for decades. 

What metal detectors provide is a robust ability to find guns and knives at checkpoints (airports, government buildings, etc.) by comprehensively scanning every piece of metal, no matter how small or non-threatening. 

Anyone who goes to an NFL game knows it can take 20 minutes or longer to get into a stadium before kickoff. And we have to go back through the detector if we forget to take our keys out, requiring us to empty our pockets into frequently dirty bins and allow a stranger to run a scanning wand across our bodies before we can pass.

We agree to this social contract in order to protect our safety inside of venues, and we put up with the time requirements. If there is no alternative, it is the only answer.

It’s time to leverage technology for advancing how we approach public safety.

The time to revisit this situation is at hand. There is a range of proven new physical safety technology capabilities from companies such as Evolv Technology (a company for which I serve on the board of directors), security video analytics from companies such as IBM, and new building access control from companies such as Johnson Controls. 

These innovative technologies can help reestablish the balance between security and freedom of movement, keeping schools, houses of worship, entertainment and shopping venues welcoming and safe.

New scanning technologies, for instance, are built on radar instead of metal detection. They can find the worst threats — including guns and bombs — and distinguish an iPhone from a baby Glock with high accuracy. This clarity not only makes us safer but also restores personal privacy and dignity to security scanning checkpoints. The systems are more intelligent and can be connected to building systems, police, and others for more rapid response in the case of an incident.

Furthermore, hundreds or thousands of people can rapidly and securely enter one of these checkpoints in an hour, versus the small fraction who can pass through a metal detector in the same timeframe. We can walk normally through open gateways without emptying our pockets or bags and expect the same level of security. So, why haven’t more venues implemented these new technologies? The answer, simply, is cost and mindset. 

New scanning technologies are more expensive than low-cost, half-century-old metal detector technologies. Most venue owners or managers either do not know these new technologies exist or may not see or fully understand the time value of shifting the inconvenience from their patrons (who pay in time) to themselves (who can offer a more efficient and welcoming experience).

Venue managers and owners care deeply about patron experience but often have an under-evolved position on the investments and technology around the first experience people have when entering their facilities. As a personal security technology company, you have one time to make a first impression.

The emphasis should be placed on addressing the business and customer experience drivers, not only the technological aspects. This will also require new kinds of partnerships and business models — physical-security-as-a-service — to make these new technologies easier to consume and to pay for.

If we continue on the current path of limited and inconvenient security scanning, clinging to the “punch card” era of physical security technology and practices, how can we expect change? The well-known saying from the 1800s, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, rings true: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

The full article is available here.