Corporate Offices Deserve More Than the Same Old Thing in Security

Metal Detectors Office Buildings Physical 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.

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