Start 2021 off right...listen to Evolv's Anil Chitkara and Lux Capital Partner, Bilal Zuberi, as they discuss CES consumer tech trends that will be entering enterprise and defense/national security sectors in Digital Threshold Live EPISODE 6.

Watch it OnDemand.

Survey Shows Fast, Reliable Screening is Crucial to Bringing Back Live Events

By Anil Chitkara, Evolv Co-founder

The Harris Poll survey shows event-goers are just as concerned about physical safety as COVID protection – and not satisfied with traditional metal detectors.

While these days we all yearn to return to some semblance of normal life, most aren’t going to feel comfortable returning to concerts, sporting events and the like for several months after the pandemic has subsided. The reluctance largely has to do with screening methods that, while necessary and welcome, create lines and crowding that are unacceptable to large swaths of would-be event attendees.

This is one finding from a survey of more 500 people who attended a concert, sporting event or other live, ticketed event in 2019. Conducted by The Harris Poll in mid-Sept. through early October 2020, the survey made it clear attendees want to see both adequate COVID-related measures in place as well as traditional safety precautions such as metal detectors – but without the lines. It’s a result that should have sports teams, event producers and venue facility managers looking for new ways to make attendees feel comfortable with screening processes while greatly increasing their efficiency and effectiveness.

Social distancing is top of mind

Survey respondents made clear they’re more comfortable returning to events such as conferences, workshops and conventions where social distancing is more easily accomplished and enforced. On average, respondents said they’d be comfortable attending such events within two to three months after federal, state and local restrictions allow (see Figure 1). For events that are generally more crowded, like concerts and sporting events, the median was four to six months.

Figure 1

That finding is consistent with The Harris Poll’s ongoing COVID-19 Tracker surveys, said Erica Parker, Managing Director at The Harris Poll, who recently joined me for a webinar to go over the results.

“It’s clear from that kind of data that it’s a bigger lift to get people to ticketed events,” as compared to dining at a restaurant or returning to the office, she said. “Venue and facility managers are going to need to do some work to restore public confidence and get people back and feeling comfortable doing these activities.”

Part of the issue is, unlike some workers and school-aged children, consumers have the luxury of simply opting not to go to events. They can also be choosier about the protocols in place before they’re willing to return.

Safety concerns run deeper than COVID

What’s more, it’s not just COVID-19 that has folks concerned. While 81% of survey respondents said they are concerned or very concerned about the pandemic, other issues garner the same or even more concern:

  • Mass shootings: 83% concerned or very concerned
  • Street crime – 82%
  • Protest-related civil unrest/violence – 81%
  • Terrorism – 72%

81% of event attendees are concerned about COVID-19 but even more are concerned about mass shootings (83%) and street crime (82%).

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) believe crime has increased over the past year. In the Midwest, the figure is 79% vs. 63% in the South. Residents in rural areas are likewise more likely to think crime is on the rise, 82% vs. 62% for suburbanites.

All this adds up to 69% of respondents believing the risk of violence in public spaces is higher than it was a year ago. Nearly 3 in 10 respondents (28%) say it’s unsafe to go out in public. That’s especially true in the Northeast (35%) but far less so in the Midwest (18%).

69% of respondents think the risk of violence in public spaces is higher than a year ago. Nearly 3 in 10 say it’s unsafe to go out in public.

Against that backdrop, it’s not hard to understand why 79% of survey respondents either agree or strongly agree that screening makes them feel more comfortable at events. This is the case even though they cite numerous problems with traditional screening measures, from lines that slow the process and make social distancing impossible to relying on fallible human intervention (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

On the other hand, respondents clearly appreciate efforts to make screening safer and more efficient post-pandemic. Asked how likely they are to return to a venue that has various features in place, 86% said they were somewhat or strongly likely to visit venues that have hand sanitizer stations and touchless screening in place along with plexiglass shields (85%). Other desirable features include:

  • Walk-through body temperature measurements: 84%
  • Social distancing floor markings: 84%
  • Mandatory face masks: 81%
  • Handheld thermometer checks: 79%

Protecting venues

Traditional metal detector screens, which require attendees to empty their bags and pockets, and potentially be subject to a pat-down, still induce more positive than negative feelings. But the negatives are significant.

Asked how this type of screening would make them feel, 75% said “calm” but nearly a third (32%) said “anxious.” And while 73% said it would make them “confident,” more than one in five (21%) said they’d be “fearful.” Nearly three-quarters (74%) said the screening would make them feel “satisfied” but 30% said they’d be “irritated.” Anxious, fearful and irritated is no way to enjoy an event.

Respondents were also asked what risks they would be willing to accept during a mid-pandemic screening process. The answers point to more challenges for venue operators and managers, as attendees will not tolerate use of outdated technology (61%), slow or inefficient screening processes (58%), false positives, meaning mistaking a harmless item for a weapon (52%), and even the possibility of human error (50%). 

Perhaps most telling, nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) said they would simply not join a line in which people were not socially distancing. Think about that: it means someone has a ticket to an event, gets to the venue, sees a line that violates social distancing guidelines and decides to forego the event.

“When you think about the intersection of COVID and metal detector screening, and the fact that it can create long security lines, [event attendees are] not interested in that,” The Harris Poll’s Parker said. Newer technology can make a difference, though. “We find that 87% are likely to return to facilities and venues if there was a touchless security screening,” she said.

The vast majority of respondents (87%) say they are likely to return to facilities and venues if touchless security screening is in place.

That makes sense because newer touchless security screening systems create an altogether different experience. There’s no need to empty pockets, because the system can detect items that are in your pockets and differentiate, say, a gun from a metal keychain or phone. By the same token, you can carry bags through the screening system; there’s no need to empty them out. The systems are reliable enough that there are far fewer false positives, which means there’s almost no need for pat-downs.

All of these attributes contribute to another big advantage of touchless systems: they’re much faster. Evolv Express, for example, uses artificial intelligence and advanced sensors to screen up to 3,600 people per hour, about 10 times faster than legacy metal detectors.

New workplace requirements

The Harris Poll makes clear that while COVID-19 is a top concern for event attendees, their physical safety is just as important. But given the COVID requirements for social distancing, it’s equally clear that we need to investigate new ways to keep attendees safe and secure.

Consumers will appreciate facilities that implement a touchless approach, given 79% agreed that knowing everyone is screened upon entering a venue makes them more comfortable. And nearly three quarters (74%) agreed that metal detection systems make it impossible to socially distance while in line.

With a system like Evolv Express, you can get ahead of the curve and ensure potential attendees you value their safety, putting them more at ease – and more likely to attend your events. Click here to learn more.

Watch Digital Threshold Live Episode 3 here:

Download our infographic for additional statistics.

A Look Back at How We “Evolved” in 2020

By: Neil Sandhoff, VP North America, Evolv Technology

While last year was filled with an abundance of sadness, uncertainty and civil unrest, it’s important not to overlook accomplishments and successes. As we put our 2021 plan into motion, I’d like to highlight the key awards, news coverage, launches, customer achievements and key lessons from 2020 that have set us up for an outstanding 2021. But first, I’d like to say how grateful we are for our customers and partners; you continue to put your trust and confidence in us to keep your visitors and employees safe.

January…Making Strategic Moves for the Year Ahead

At the beginning of 2020, Evolv made several strategic moves to scale operations and meet the unprecedented demand for free-flow weapons screening by raising $30 million in growth capital from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and others, promoting Peter George to CEO and expanding our research, development and productization efforts led by Co-founder Mike Ellenbogen. 

Finback Investment Partners

Little did we know that those moves would help us keep our doors open through the pandemic and establish our market leadership among security screening companies worldwide, setting us up to assist venues and facilities to safely reopen throughout the year. As 2020 momentum was building, we were recognized as a great place to work, honored as one of Built in Boston’s prestigious Best Small Companies to Work for in 2020.

February…Working Towards our Mission of Making it Safer to Learn

One month into the year, we took huge strides in living our mission of making it safer to learn by partnering with two South Carolina school districts who installed Evolv’s AI-based, free-flow weapons-detection systems. Taking proactive measures to keep students safe was paramount for both school districts, given the increasing frequency of school shootings and related incidents. Dr. Mark Smith, Director of Student Services and Safety at Spartanburg 6, the first school in the nation to use Evolv’s AI-based free-flow weapons detection system stated, “We wanted to incorporate security technology not because we had any incidents, but because we wanted to ensure we never have one. I’d been researching security strategies and next generation technologies searching for a solution that delivered optimal security while providing a welcoming, non-prison-like environment for everyone on campus. I’d been coming up short until I discovered Evolv. They checked all the boxes.” As much as that statement meant to us, the most meaningful moment of the deployment was having a student walk over after the initial installation and say, “thank you, I finally feel safe.” That’s why we do what we do. It was Spartanburg’s ability to see beyond “the norm” that set all of this in motion and established a new baseline of security for schools across the nation.

March… Unprecedented Achievement for Evolv…and the Pandemic Took Hold

Just weeks after launching Evolv Express™ in school districts, and as the pandemic sadly began to spread, we were honored for outstanding campus security services and products, by being recognized by Campus Security & Life Safety with a Platinum Perimeter Protection and a Gold Screening Equipment 2020 Secure Campus Award. One week later, as we settled into our “work from home” routines, we were awarded the world’s most revered innovation award, a Gold 2020 Edison Award in the Threat Defense and Security Category.  Winning an award of this caliber against elite competition worldwide was a true honor for everyone at Evolv.

April…Regrouping and Re-Engineering to Address the Pandemic Health Threat

In April, as all non-essential businesses shut down, or started to find a “work from home” rhythm, we saw a massive increase in factory worker hiring and an increase in uncertainty, civil unrest and the start of ongoing violence. We also saw a shift in security threats.  No longer were CSOs and COOs worrying solely about weapons as threats, now they had to worry about health threats as well.  Our executive team was refining our strategy, while engineering and product management started reshaping our roadmap. Security screening as we knew it was probably changing forever, and our solution was more important now than ever before.

While it would have been so easy to become stuck in what we coined, “the COVID fog”, our employees rallied together, hunkered down and worked even longer hours to serve our customer mission globally and sustain manufacturing.

First on the list for our updated product roadmap was to evaluate and build an add-on thermal imaging package to help venues and facilities spot individuals with elevated skin temperature who might be possible health threats. While our support team managed calls assisting venues with reallocating systems to different locations, our marketing team developed a customer spotlight program to drive awareness and business to customers online, and our Customer Success Team established a Best Practice program for customers, setting up customer meetings to field questions, help share trends and lessons learned across industries as everyone worked together to keep our various communities safe. And while the teams were hard at work, working remote and assisting customers meet the new security demands, we were honored by the Tech Tribune as a 2020 Best Tech Startup in Waltham

May…Time for Adaptive Recovery

Throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic, we continued to be surprised and honored, and in May we earned a spot on Inc. Magazine’s 2020 Best Workplaces List, where they recognize successful businesses that value company culture, offer standout worker benefits and prioritize employee well-being. This award helped shine a light on why we all love working for Evolv…it’s a family and we all are driving towards the mission of keeping people safe. Our customer partnerships are an extension of that family, and we knew we had to do everything possible to help venues and facilities adapt and recover. We were lucky enough to be able to call on one of our Advisors, Juliette Kayyem, to host an hour-long webinar discussing the adaptive recovery process for schools, workplaces and ticketed venues.  She was able to offer hundreds of venues and facilities strategic guidance into how to adapt and recover during this unprecedented time.

June…Reopening America with Touchless Security Screening

Since the launch of Evolv Express, interest in the free-flow, respectful, fast screening had been strong.  What we hadn’t focused on until the pandemic was its “touchless” capability. Because Express offers free-flow screening, and drastically reduces the need for secondary screening, we realized that Express was the only screening solution out there that enables social-distancing at entrances while still screening people as they walked in the door.  And, in June, we were grateful to help reopen some North American sites with touchless security screening starting at Six Flags locations nationwide, Set Jet and several others.  Together we were reimagining security in the recreation space.

What once was a “nice-to-have”, was now an imperative. People refuse to be touched. People cannot and will not stand in lines. And, Express was and is the one solution that enables safe screening at a distance. It was an ‘Aha!’ moment for all of us…

July…Taking the Temperature on Thermal Imaging as Touchless Screening Demand Surges

As customers such as Georgia Aquarium, Six Flags Theme Parks and others reopened throughout the summer with Express systems in place, we saw a demand surge for touchless security screening. We also were hearing of many other new security tactics and operations solutions enabling touchless guest experiences that were being adopted by our customers. We called upon Anthony Rivera from Georgia Aquarium and Todd Fasulo of Wynn Resorts, to host the webinar “It’s Time to go Touchless”. Their years of experience in both security and hospitality left us with a number of important takeaways, including: 1) Adopt a culture of relentless innovation; all things can be improved upon; 2) Think “five-star experience” as you approach every step of your guest, visitor or employee journey; and 3) Engage your full leadership team, ensuring public safety AND public health are organization-wide strategic imperatives.

In keeping with the notion of “going touchless”, Evolv was thrilled to launch our thermal imaging package for Express. Venues and facilities could now screen for both weapons and elevated skin temperature in an integrated, touchless fashion ensuring safe screening for all involved.

August…A Global Partnership is Announced and Cultural Institutions Begin to Reopen

In August, we announced a global partnership with STANLEY Security, the world’s second-largest electronic security company. As a result, organizations receive unparalleled expertise and the full spectrum of value-added services from the two combined companies. Shortly after our partnership was announced, we were honored by Campus Safety Magazine with the Campus Safety Best Electronic Systems Technologies (BEST) award for the “Inspection & Detection Equipment” category. As CEO Peter George stated, “As classrooms begin to reopen, public officials, administrators and security professionals alike share a commitment to do so safely. Keeping people safe is Evolv’s core mission and we’re honored to be recognized by Campus Safety magazine’s 2020 BEST awards for the tremendous value Evolv Express brings to campuses nationwide.”

Just as schools were beginning to reopen and find a “new normal”, so too were museums and cultural institutions, such as those in New York City. Our customer success team spent the month working with customers like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and several others to ensure a smooth and safe reopening.

September…A Golden Ticket to Safety and the Rise of the Digital Threshold

In September our teams were now in full swing working with customers nationwide as they slowly and carefully reopened, several of which were proudly showcasing new attractions, exhibits and entrances. One such customer was Hersheypark, who used the shutdown time to finish rebuilding a brand new entrance for a better customer experience including the incorporation of touchless screening to eliminate the need for person-by-person manual bag checks. With metal detectors, it typically took the park four to five seconds per person for screening, regularly followed by hand searching of bags or other personal items, so not only was this a welcomed change by park guests, but the park’s security professionals emphasized how easy it was to learn and use the system while optimizing their staff resources.

As mentioned earlier, Six Flags also updated their entrances, in fact, they won an Amusement Today Golden Ticket Innovation of the Year Award for their entrance improvements which included incorporating Evolv Express for park guest screening.

By mid-September, we had spent months talking to customers, analyzing market trends and watching nationwide violence and civil unrest hit new highs. We used that newly found knowledge coupled with expertise in both the physical and digital security spaces to build a new vision, one where the physical and digital security realms merge, and our CEO published “The Rise of the Digital Threshold” piece illustrating our thoughts on security of the future.

Rise of the Digital Threshold

Tied to that new vision, we launched a webcast series called Digital Threshold Live where Co-founder Anil Chitkara talks with security, operations and guest experience professionals about emerging trends, lessons learned and so much more.

October…The Current Threat Environment and Reopening Safely

Kicking off the month of October, we held our first episode of Digital Threshold Live. In the first episode, Anil talked about safely reopening New York’s premiere arts venues with Keith Prewitt, Chief Security Officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lisa Schroeder, Director of Finance, Performance and Campus Operations for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Thomas Slade, Senior Security Director for the American Museum of Natural History.  

Our second episode was held three weeks later where Anil sat one-on-one with Managing Director of Corporate Safety and Security for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, Jason White, to discuss trust and confidence being the foundation of delivering an exceptional visitor experience. In each of these episodes, Anil and the guest speakers covered a variety of topics related to public safety, public health, the customer journey and the path back to normal.

Mid-way through the month, we proudly sponsored Counter Terror Business’ CTB365 event where our European Sales Director, Nathan Bailey, gave a virtual keynote presentation around “the current threat environment and the need for layered security strategy”, and then Co-founder Anil Chitkara joined esteemed security professionals and advocates in the final Panel Discussion & Round-up featuring: Philip Ingram, Figen Murray, Rick Mounfield, Paul Jeffrey, Gary Simpson and Nick Aldworth.

While a majority of outdoor ticketed venues were finding ways to reopen throughout the summer and fall, many of our beloved performing arts venues, stadiums and indoor arenas were unfortunately dealing with a different situation. Many sports venues allowed the games to take place, but they were without fans and most of their employees, such as Manchester Arena. For some performing arts venues, opening up was highly dependent on location. For instance, Omaha Performing Arts Venue was able to reopen in October after installing Evolv Express as their new security scanners to eliminate close contact between employees and attendees and changing to cashless transactions.

Others, such as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, created an online community for arts lovers to enjoy music and live performances virtually in what they call “Lincoln Center at Home”. Others took innovation and “thinking outside the box” to a new level. Dr. Phillips Center decided if people can’t be inside to see the performances, they’d bring the performances outside to the people. And, in October they announced their new series “Frontyard Festival”, an all-new outdoor, six-month long festival for downtown Orlando that started in December. Front Yard Festival features live entertainment in a safe, socially-distanced environment, using Evolv Express as part of their security operation.

November…Time for Research

While we are in constant communication with venues and facilities throughout the world who provide a wealth of anecdotal information, we were thirsty for formal data.  To help venues and facilities with their planning assumptions for 2021, we decided it was time for market research. With Harris Insights we embarked on a survey. This Harris Poll was conducted online with more than 1,500 American adults who have a personal stake in the security screening experience: consumers who attended ticketed events in 2019 (n=506), parents of school-aged children (n=712), and workers at large factories, warehouses and distribution centers (n=504). Anil and Erica Parker, managing director at The Harris Poll, reviewed these research results and discussed the implications for workplaces, schools, ticketed venues and other facilities in mid-November in Episode 3 of Evolv’s Digital Threshold Live webcast series.

December…Putting a Bow on 2020

In the beginning of the month, Mahesh Saptharishi, CTO at Motorola Solutions, joined Anil in Episode 4 of Digital Threshold Live: “Why Technology Convergence in the Digital Threshold Matters” to talk about the technological possibilities at the intersection of sensors and AI, exploring the business drivers, the technology and ultimately the effect on humans. He told us that “Machine learning are the core algorithmic capabilities that power AI,” and with regards to physical security, “when cameras, or when systems, see things, detect objects or respond to what the objects are doing in the scene, that is artificial intelligence, but that ability to detect and the ability for that system to adapt to the environment is powered by machine learning algorithms.”

In December we received three honors. Frost & Sullivan recognized Evolv with the 2020 North American Technology Innovation Leadership Award for Evolv Express™ publishing a full industry report. BostInno named us one of Boston’s hottest startups with an Inno on Fire 2020 Blazer Award; and we were awarded a 2020 Platinum ‘ASTORS’ Homeland Security Award from American Security Today.

To tie a bow around what we learned from 2020 and put it to work in 2021, Anil welcomed Courtney Adante, President and Security Risk Advisor, and Jonathan Wackrow, Managing Director and Global Head of Security from Teneo, a global CEO consulting and advisory firm to join him for Digital Threshold Live Episode 5 – Resilience Is A Competitive Necessity: Learnings From 2020 And Considerations For 2021. Resilience is central, it’s an organization’s ability to respond, recover and rebound, and the challenges of 2020 have made it abundantly clear that resilience planning is critical.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Throughout the year, several themes emerged among our customers and their industries: 1) touchless solutions are the key to building confidence and customer reengagement; 2) sharing lessons learned across institutions and venues within one’s industry is a true treasure; 3) a layered security strategy is the only way to adapt and recover from any tragic event; and 4) the security landscape and the CSO’s role has changed forever.

As we move into the second week of 2021, I hope you and your organization are able to use what we’ve learned to build a more robust security infrastructure and customer experience for 2021.  We look forward to our continued partnerships and for those who haven’t yet reached out to have a conversation, I’m only an email or phone call away. And, don’t forget to check back periodically for the latest Digital Threshold Live event.

Cheers, here’s to a successful and safe 2021, and thank you for entrusting us with your safety.

Simplicity is in the Details: Addressing the Deep-Tech Challenges of the Digital Threshold

A conversation between Evolv Technology’s Founder and Head of Advanced Technology Mike Ellenbogen and Chief Scientist Alec Rose.

Evolv Technology started as a small team with a clear mission: return confidence and peace of mind to people visiting public spaces by changing the paradigm of how security professionals can assure venues are safe from the most serious threats without compromising visitor experience. While this mission was created during ongoing and escalating terrorist threats and attacks, it was well before our current global pandemic environment. But it has never been more relevant or more prescient. According to the recent Harris Insights poll, “Consumer Sentiment – Advancements in Security Screening,” the pandemic has only served to heighten consumer, employee, and visitor expectations and safety and security awareness when it comes to work, travel, shopping, entertainment, and general interactions.

It is this core mission that has attracted innovative people like Chief Scientist Alec Rose to Evolv. According to Alec, he was “doomed from the get go” when it came to math and, later, physics. He grew up with a math teacher mother and electrical engineer father and solved “fun mental math problems” from a young age. His path to Evolv, and developing complex algorithms to solve the basic idea of keeping people safe while they do their ordinary things, seemed destined.

I sat down with Alec to understand what drives him to solve the big deep-tech challenges of the space we call the digital threshold.

Mike Ellenbogen: What brought you to Evolv?

Alec Rose: I always found math fun and interesting, but I needed a real problem to apply it to. Physics was that pathway because it’s about fitting the simplest possible model to a complex problem. I definitely see myself as a physicist—I love it and am always looking for a new piece of the puzzle to learn and new tools to apply. I studied physics in college. From there I got my electrical engineering PhD degree at Duke, although even then I did everything I could to take all my courses out of the physics department to stay close to math and theory.

At Duke, I worked with Professor David Smith who was developing metamaterials for millimeter wave imaging. You and Anil (Evolv co-founder Anil Chitkara) had been following David and his work and started Evolv to essentially commercialize this work. Through this, I met you both. One thing led to another and I became Evolv’s Director of Advanced Development in 2013 and then Chief Scientist in 2020. The evolution of my role here has allowed me to blend my desire to distill a complex problem down to the simplest possible model, with the goal of keeping people safe in a non-intrusive way.

Mike: How are you able to blend these to address the deep-tech challenges of the digital threshold?

Alec: I’ll never forget one of the first things I learned in my college Intro to Physics class. We were presented with a seemingly complex problem: what happens when a horse gets struck by lightning? To break it down, our professor instructed us to start with the assumption that the horse is a giant metal sphere, because we know how to solve for this simplification. There’s no need to get bogged down by the microscopic details. Instead, always try to distill the problem down to its simplest form to get a tangible, actionable answer. I use this as a guiding principle every day at Evolv.

My graduate work was in electromagnetics and specifically the area of metamaterials, which is essentially a toolbox of solutions for creating artificial composites to solve different problems. If we wanted to bend light a particular way, if we wanted to make a particular antenna, there was a tool in the toolbox for that. I initially joined Evolv to be the “metamaterial specialist.” But I wanted to go beyond that because I was always driven by that horse analogy—to distill the most critical problems we are faced with in the digital threshold down to their simplest form and solve for that.

My path at Evolv expanded from metamaterials, to millimeter wave imaging, to reconstruction techniques within imaging—how do we consume and analyze reams of radar data, for example, to create a semblance of a person and the guns that a person might be carrying? From there, my focus quickly moved to the world of automated threat detection and computer vision. While much of my focus is now on algorithms, sensors, and their interface, as well as machine learning, I never stray too far from electromagnetics.

Mike: Venue and facility thresholds are the spaces where someone goes from being an outsider, an unknown, to a person who’s either a trusted employee, or a welcomed fan or patron. From your perspective, what are the core technical challenges that you’re drawn to in this threshold area? What are the real problems that have to be solved there?

Alec: I’m very interested in the role of the guard at the threshold. They’re often the first person that anybody meets when entering a venue. Not only are the guards responsible for spotting a gun or a bomb but they’re often asked general information questions. They suffer fatigue just like anybody else. It’s easy to blame them for long lines or missed threats. I want to make the process more synergistic with the guard. How do we make it easier for them to quickly and unobtrusively scan for, or monitor for, a threat? And all while reducing false alarms. If you lower the false alarm rate, guards are less stressed because they’re chasing fewer phantoms. And visitors are less stressed because fewer are getting stopped.

Mike: Why are there so many false alarms?

Alec: Unlike the electronic articles surveillance systems that most retailers use, we don’t have control over the shape, size, or materials of the things that need to be stopped from crossing the threshold. The possible space of threats is gigantic and it’s inevitable that in trying to protect against all of these possible threats, overlaps with some common items that people might carry will occur, creating a false alarm.

Mike: How do these overlaps occur?

Alec: The signature we look for on certain threats can be very similar to the signature on something quite benign. For example, the steel barrel of a rifle can look very similar to the steel pole of an umbrella. Since we want to catch all possible rifles while trying to let through all possible umbrellas, there’s going to be some overlap. You’re going to stop some people with umbrellas, to make sure you’re not letting through any rifles.

Compounding this, the materials used in threats can be similar to those used in everyday items; a similar amount of steel and a similar shape can show up in a gun as well as inside your laptop. At the same time, the venues and their customers are incredibly varied and very fractured. They don’t all have the same types of people coming through, they’re not all carrying the same type of “clutter,” such as bags, mobile phones or thermoses. The person coming to work at an office building is carrying something very different than the person entering a sports stadium. And each has a very different expectation of being stopped and searched based on the type of venue.

Mike: Drawing on your roots, how do you distill this into a solvable math problem? What is “the shape of this horse?”

Alec: We’ve moved well past the “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” approach of traditional metal detectors that…detect metal. If we open up parameters, we can then consider not just how much metal, but what kind of metal? What shape is it? The extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic waves at the lower end of the spectrum interact with metal objects and reveal what looks like just a blob to the untrained eye. But that blob still has color and shape. These two dimensions end up being immensely important to algorithms for separating consumer electronics from firearms.

And yes, this definitely harkens back to identifying the simplest possible model that can extract usable information from a very, very complex problem. How do we represent analog signals alongside digital data in the same rich way, in the right formats and with enough precision, so that they can be analyzed? In this case, the complex problem is the interaction between the system and all the possible combinations of metal objects that somebody could be carrying.

When someone walks through the Evolv system, we collect over half a million measurements across all of the different sensors and frequencies. How do we boil this vast amount of data down to actionable, real-time intelligence that the security guard can use to detect threats, make a visitor feel welcome, and not create false positives? We use a physics model called magnetic polarizability tensors (MPTs) that synthesize these half a million data points and dimensional data streams we’re constantly collecting, and represent them in six physically intuitive and computationally useful numbers. We can then teach a computer what these six numbers represent by giving it lots of examples. The computer can start drawing relationships between threats of interest and the clutter items that people carry. The guard can then use this “well-digested data” to have a clear profile of the person walking through the system.

Mike: Many solutions to problems work great in the lab, but not in the real world, where everything is dynamic and varied. How do you solve for the commercial environment?

Alec: It’s true, venues come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and infrastructures. But a commercial product needs to work in all of these environments, without exception. If we only focus on the cool things that we can do in a lab, we actually miss some of the more fun challenges of making something work in the real world.

For a security system to work, assuming it’s comprised of sensors and algorithms, the sensors need to be able to listen to their environment and adapt to temperature, to nearby metal or nearby electronics emitting in similar spectrums. Successful products actually build an algorithm that’s smart enough to listen to the environment and continuously adapt. Sensors and algorithms have to constantly verify their assumptions and be able to dynamically change in real time.

Using the Evolv system as an example, we made it sensitive to one part in 10,000 of our signal strength. When a system is that sensitive, it means anything that blows it around or moves sensors in the middle of the scan is going to present some interesting challenges. You run into this in wall scanning or synthetic aperture radar in drones, where you need to always know where your sensor is located, relative to whatever you’re imaging. It’s an incredibly difficult problem.

Mike: And then, of course, these sensors and algorithms generate a flood of data and the analytics needed to synthesize it, to make sense of flows, spot patterns, etc. Do you see any interesting technical challenges there?

Alec: As I said earlier, the goal is presenting that data from sensors and algorithms in an integrated, “well-digested” way to deliver something actionable in real time. Once the data is collected and stored, it needs to be analyzed for this actionable information, which is where machine learning takes over to look for patterns.

Additionally, not all sensors are built the same, or talk to each other very easily. You then need to create an orchestration layer to coordinate all of these different sensor streams in real time, and make sure they’re processed, that the sensors all turn on together, that they’re all collecting together, that none have failed.

Mike: Given your path to date from those early math problem-solving sessions, what do you hope will be the impact of your work?

Alec: I want to synthesize the actions that need to happen at the digital threshold down to a visitor experience that’s as unobtrusive and ubiquitous as it is at any store. My goal is to have sensors and scanning everywhere, but they are just part of the daily fabric keeping people safe while they do their ordinary things

Mike: That’s a goal we all hope for. Thank you, Alec.

Digital Threshold News: Episode 5 – Resilience is a Competitive Necessity: Learnings from 2020 and Considerations for 2021

2020 was a year of learning for security and risk practitioners, in fact, the blueprints they started the year with quickly became obsolete. At the end of the year, it’s time to look back on what the industry learned and what 2021 will bring with the final episode of the year of Digital Threshold Live.

Host Anil Chitkara, Evolv Technology Co-founder and Head of Corporate Development, welcomed two guests from Teneo, a global CEO consulting and advisory firm, Courtney Adante, President and Security Risk Advisor, and Jonathan Wackrow, Managing Director and Global Head of Security. Adante and Wackrow shared what they learned during this unexpected year and how that will shape risk and security postures in 2021. 

2020: New and Emerging Risk Required Agility and Creative Solutions

No matter what industry, size, or level of success, most organizations were not prepared for a pandemic. Even when more information about COVID-19 became available, and there were shifts in work, Adante commented, “We were building solutions on the fly. This mode of operating will likely continue into 2021.”

Wackrow agreed, “Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face, and everyone got punched in the face. Those that have been successful, identified threats with the virus and pivoted quickly with a model of resilience and flexibility.”

COVID-19 wasn’t the only risk in 2020. Civil unrest around social and criminal justice reform, a faltering economy, rising crime rates, mental health issues, cyber-attacks, and natural disasters also commanded attention in 2020. Those same challenges will carry into 2021. 

How Do Organizations Move Forward with Risk Management?

Adante and Wackrow discussed risk monitoring and intelligence, and their importance. They are leveraging data analysis and expert critiques to add context while concurrently teaching their clients how to do this.  

Wackrow said, “In thinking about threat domains and how they impact your organization, it’s not only about consequences and severity, but how are you going to respond? You don’t want to be in a reactive model.”

A New Domain for Security: Health Security

In the realm of security, prior to a pandemic, the branches were physical and cyber. Now companies realize that health security also has to be part of that conversation. It becomes a new pillar requiring subject matter expertise, and is not something traditionally part of the security component. “We’re seeing hiring of chief medical officers outside of healthcare, in airlines and real estate developers. Businesses are now prioritizing this expertise,” Adante added. 

This new part of security is changing the role of the Chief Security Officer (CSO).

The New CSO

Traditionally, a CSO has been about gates, guards, and guns. 2020 has disrupted this idea, and the role will never be the same. The CSO has three areas now: physical, cyber, and health. The CSO isn’t necessarily the expert on all these things, so that’s causing three shifts.

First, CSOs will have to think about risk management and strategy, along with its alignment with business operations and strategy. 

Second, they’ll need to form collaborative relationships with leaders in HR, information security, and operations. 

Third, there are now new issues on the plate, with physical locations mostly being empty. “New issues in security are now part of the story with the ‘work-from-home’ model. Those aren’t going away and may become bigger,” Adante said. 

Resiliency: What Does That Mean in 2021?

The last question for security and risk leaders is to think about what resiliency means in 2021. It’s not about business continuity. Most businesses had those before the pandemic. They were very IT-focused. Companies need to integrate the three pillars of security — physical, cyber, and health to create a more sustainable version of resiliency. 

Get More Insights from the Experts

To view our OnDemand version of Episode 5, click here or the video below:

Too busy to sit in front of your laptop and watch these webcasts? We now offer these as a podcast. The Digital Threshold Podcast series is available on Apple, Google or Spotify.

 

Don’t forget to register for our next event.

Harris Poll Shows Physical Security is Crucial to Getting Kids Back in School

By: Anil Chitkara, Evolv Technology Co-founder

Parents are equally concerned about mass shootings and COVID; the majority want weapons screening in place.

While effectively dealing with COVID-19 is top-of-mind for facilities managers as they work toward getting students back to school full-time, a recent Harris Poll we commissioned indicates there’s significant concern over violence and crime to be overcome as well. And in the COVID era, traditional screening methods that create lines and crowding will no longer be acceptable as a mitigation measure.

For the poll, more than 700 parents of K-12 school-aged children were surveyed in Sept. and Oct. 2020. It found 87% of the parents were either very or somewhat concerned about their kids contacting COVID upon returning to school. But concern over their physical security was a close second, at 81%. Although parents in urban areas were more likely to be somewhat or very concerned than their suburban counterparts, over half of suburban parents are concerned about the physical security of their children, 74% vs. 54%, respectively.

Eight out of ten parents are concerned about the physical security of their school age children.

COVID measures yes, but physical security, too

It’s a similar story when looking at COVID-19 prevention protocols and measures to ensure physical safety.

Having schools follow federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols is important to parents feeling safe about their kids. More than 90% of parents say it’s important for schools to ensure frequent handwashing and sanitizing, increased cleaning, mask wearing, social distancing and temperature screening (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1

While that is certainly understandable, what may be surprising is that parents are nearly as concerned over physical security measures intended to keep students safe. More than 9 in 10 parents said it was somewhat or very important that each of the following measures be in place:

  • Locked doors and visitors showing ID: 92%
  • Presence of law enforcement: 92%
  • All classrooms have door locks: 91%
  • Metal detector for screening: 91%

Over 90% of parents say it is important to have a metal detector to screen for weapons coming into schools.

Part of the reason for concern over physical security measures is a fear of violence in public spaces. Sadly, school safety has been an issue for decades now. But concern seems to be growing, as the poll found 68% of parents think the risk is higher now than a year ago. Perhaps even more concerning, more than a third (31%) say going out in public is “mostly” or “very” unsafe.

Almost 90% of parents are concerned about a mass shooting in schools, matching the same level of concern about COVID.

In fact, parents are just as concerned over the risk of various sorts of physical violence as they are of COVID. Indeed, 88% of parents are somewhat or very concerned about COVID, the exact same number as for mass shootings. The numbers are similar for other forms of threats:

  • Protest-related civil unrest/violence: 86%
  • Street crime: 83%
  • Terrorism: 76%

COVID-related issues with metal detectors

So, it’s clear schools will have to take steps to assuage parents’ concerns over various physical threats. But the poll makes clear the pandemic is making that more challenging.

Parents now see issues with traditional metal detector screening. More than three quarters of parents are concerned that screening can create long lines and requires a student’s belongings to be touched by a security guard (see Figure 2). Fewer but still significant numbers of parents cite issues such as the possibility for human error, creating crowds that violate social distancing guidelines, and the need for physical pat-downs and searches.

Figure 2

The poll makes clear any schools using traditional metal detector screening are in for some backlash from parents. In the COVID era, at least half of parents are not willing to accept many of the problems associated with traditional metal detectors, including:

  • Crowds that violate social distancing guidelines
  • Use of outdated technology
  • False positives
  • Slow or inefficient processes
  • Physical pat down searches

Three out of four parents are concerned that security screening creates lines, and two thirds of them would not join a line that lacked social distancing.

Here’s another stat from the poll that I found fairly astounding: When parents were asked what they would do if they saw a security line in which people were not socially distancing, nearly two-thirds (65%) said they would not join the line. This inclination was far more pronounced in urban (73%) and suburban (64%) areas than rural (43%). 

A touchless screening experience

I discussed this issue, along with many others, in a webinar with Erica Parker, Managing Director at The Harris Poll. “When you think about the intersection of COVID and metal detector screening, and the fact that it can create long security lines, [parents are] not interested in that,” she said. Newer technology can make a difference, though. “We find that 87% are likely to return to facilities and venues if there was a touchless security screening,” she said.

The vast majority of parents (87%) say they are likely to return to facilities and venues if touchless security screening is in place.

That makes sense because newer touchless security screening systems create an altogether different experience. There’s no need to empty pockets, because the system can detect items that are in your pockets and differentiate, say, a gun from a metal keychain or phone. By the same token, you can carry bags through the screener; there’s no need to empty them out. The systems are reliable enough that there are far fewer false positives – meaning mistaking a harmless item for a weapon – which means there’s no need for pat-downs.

All of these attributes contribute to another big advantage of touchless systems: they’re much faster. Evolv Express, for example, uses artificial intelligence and powerful sensors to screen up to 3,600 people per hour, about 10 times faster than legacy metal detectors.

New back to school requirements

The Harris Poll makes clear that while COVID-19 is a top concern for parents of K-12 students, their physical safety is a close second. But given the COVID requirements for social distancing, it’s equally clear that we need to investigate new ways to keep kids safe and secure.

Parents will appreciate schools that implement a touchless approach, as 85% of them agree that knowing everyone is screened upon entering a school building makes them more comfortable. And more than three quarters (78%) agreed that metal detection systems make it impossible to socially distance while in line.

With a system like Evolv Express, you can get ahead of the curve and safely welcome kids back to school. To learn more, visit Evolv.

Read our Press Release

Digital Threshold News: Episode 2 Recap

In the second episode of Digital Threshold Live, “Trust and Confidence: The Foundation of Delivering an Exceptional Visitor Experience,” host Anil Chitkara, Evolv Technology Co-founder and Head of Corporate Development, was joined by Jason White, Managing Director of Corporate Safety and Security for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts.

Episode 2 Highlights

Hershey Entertainment and Resorts has done an excellent job navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. The company proactively discussed procedures at the start of the new year before COVID-19 really made its way to the United States, keeping the safety of its staff and customers at the forefront of risk management and business continuity strategies.

Chitkara and White discussed a variety of topics related to public safety, public health, the customer journey and the path back to normal, including:

  • Safely reopening in the wake of the pandemic, including technologies and strategies helping to make that possible.
  • Creating a touch-free, contactless environment using technology such as Evolv’s touchless security screening systems.
  • Safeguarding guests and employees with rigorous safety protocols, including temperature checks and COVID questionnaires as a health defense at each entrance.
  • Balancing uncompromising security and an outstanding guest experience.
  • Being prepared for inevitable staff quarantines and making sure Hershey Entertainments and Resorts was not short-staffed.
  • Having a plan in place as health protocols and dynamics shift. “We have very, very strict and very detailed exposure response plans that have worked very well for us to the point where we’ve had no cases of community spread within HE&R, which is something we’re very proud of,” White said.

Venue security and venue reopening are complex topics, but leaders like White are developing a roadmap toward a new normal and beyond.

You can view the OnDemand version of the webcast by clicking on the video below.

To view OnDemand versions of other Digital Threshold Live episodes or register for future ones, click here.

Too busy to sit in front of your laptop and watch these webcasts? We offer these as a podcast. The Digital Threshold Podcast series is available on Apple, Google or Spotify.

 

The Current Threat Environment and the Need for a Layered Security Strategy – Keynote Presentation

Evolv Technology was a proud sponsor of the Counter Terror Business 365 Virtual event on October 8, 2020. During the virtual event, Nathan Bailey, Evolv Technology Sales Director of EMEA, gave a keynote presentation where he discussed the current threat environment, the need for touchless security screening in this new normal and how Evolv can help keep venues and facilities safe from terrorists and pandemic health threats worldwide.

Here is that keynote presentation.

CTB365 Keynote Presentation by NathanBailey @ Evolv Technology

Watch other CTB365 event presentations, including the final Panel Discussion & Round-up featuring: Philip Ingram, Figen Murray, Rick Mounfield, Paul Jeffrey, Gary Simpson, Nick Aldworth and our own Co-founder, Anil ChitkaraClick here.

ABOUT NATHAN BAILEY:

Sales Director, EMEA – Evolv Technology
For twenty plus years, Nathan Bailey has been a recognised leader in the security sector. From a young inspired engineer working on vehicle explosives detection systems to running a company providing the best technology to combat contraband and weapons from entering prisons and courts, Nathan has never wavered from the mission of keeping people safe.

At Evolv, he has responsibility for market development and customer success across Europe. Nathan has worked with some of the world’s most recognized sports clubs and event operators, bringing the full breadth of his screening systems expertise to organisations committed to physical and health safety.

ABOUT EVOLV TECHNOLOGY

Evolv Technology provides touchless security screening systems that ensure safety without sacrificing the visitor experience. The company’s latest product, coupled with a thermal imaging package, spots concealed weapons and potential virus infection threats using advanced digital sensors and artificial intelligence that is incredibly accurate, discreet and delivers significantly more throughput than older technologies. Evolv Express™ has earned industry accolades such as the 2020 Edison Awards™, two Campus Safety 2020 BEST Awards, and Campus Security & Life Safety magazine’s Secure Campus 2020 Awards.

Evolv’s customers include hundreds of corporations, airports, schools, cultural landmarks, hospitals, outdoor entertainment venues, stadiums and large-scale events around the globe. Led by a team of security industry thought leaders with a track record for delivering first-to-market products, the company holds more than 100 patents. For more information, visit https://evolvtechnology.com


VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

Hi my name is Nathan Bailey – Sales Director for Evolv technology and it’s my pleasure to be able to speak to you today and talk to you about the current threat environment, the need for a layered security strategy and a little about our products and services that have been widely used across the world today.

Before I begin, I’ll give you a little background about Evolv Technology…

Evolv was founded on the belief that everyone deserves to live, work, learn and play in a safe environment; free from terrorist activity, free from attack and free to live life to the fullest without fear.

Evolv technology was founded in 2013 and since then has grown to become the leader in touchless security screening technology across the US and following this success is developing and growing throughout the world today.

We’ve seen over the last few years just how much the world is changing, with extremism moving from well-organized terror cells such as al Qaeda to your local activist who are radicalized through online propaganda

We’ve seen attacks such as the Paris shootings, London Bridge attacks and Parsons green tube station  to name just a few, we can see that these attacks come in many forms and from many mediums and now to top it all off we have a biothreat, to which the industry has been crippled.

As we have heard from Figen and Nick today we need to learn from these tragic events in the past to make things better for the future. With the new legislation coming out, every venue must do what is right to secure the public, the venue and their staff, from becoming a victim to such attacks.

We must seek at all levels to provide the best we can at every moment because one life lost is one too many.

Now there is no silver bullet to any of the challenges we face but we believe that one right step at a time and with the right approach we can improve and reduce the number of attacks the adversary inflicts.

 The combination of an unprecedented number of weapons and unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression creates an unprecedented danger. We are living in an era of armed anxiety. Even though people are not gathering at scale today, that will change someday soon. Any gathering or workplace could be the next target. Any employee or visitor could suddenly erupt into the next violent threat. Any fan could reach their breaking point during an argument in your stands.

It could happen anywhere at any time.

So, when we look to the future and consider reopening the doors once again to the public, to our fans and visitors, we must consider that the attitude will be different, some people will be anxious about returning to larger gatherings not just because of the Biological threat but also the very real terror threat, and so as a company we aim to provide a solution that enables venues to reopen its doors with confidence, to provide a platform which is inviting to the visitors, fans and public. A system which reduces human to human contact and at the same time prevents weapons of mass destruction from entering. 

Reopening your venues will bring  many challenges just, as we have heard from the guest speakers so far today and having worked with many sports stadiums, Event Arenas, theme parks, exhibition centers and conference halls , museums, hospitals and performing arts venues across the world prior to and during the COVID-19 Pandemic we understand just how difficult it is to plan for the new future. It’s important to remember, while you look to create a safer environment from biological threats, you cannot let your guard down on public safety related to weapons threats. You have a duty to protect all who enter from both public safety and public health.

We have heard from Rick Mountfield on the role of the security officer and I wanted to say that in almost all client engagement I have had over the past 6 months or so, staffing is one of the biggest concerns, with the ever increasing terror threat and now with the COVID-19 Bio threat, we have seen a large decline in the number of security personnel available and I’m sure that this has crossed your mind when looking at your reopening plans?

Because our Evolv Express system is capable of such a high flow rate for screening it replaces in excess of 10 to 15 metal detectors depending on your operational layout and as such reduces the number of security guards required to operate.  This in turn allows our clients to reduce their security teams considerably, save a huge portion of costs and then reinvest in retraining and repurposing the additional head count to perform other duties such as crowd management and behavioral detection, or you can look at getting canine teams in or use the money for additional screening systems… or simple save money and reduce your overheads.

Express enables fast, respectful, touchless screening for your security teams, fans, and patrons; No longer are people required to divest their personal belongings before passing through security, No longer does the security officer have to carry out additional metal wanding or pat downs to every person who walks through which infringes on personal space and puts both the officer and visitor at a greater risks of human to human contact. With a screening capacity of more than 3600 people per hour, the Evolv Express provides free-flow screening at the pace of life, and with its proprietary artificial intelligence platform, Express is able to differentiate between every day personal items like cell phones, keys and coins and Mass casualty Weapons.

I could talk all day about our system and its performance but I won’t, I hope you have a great time in session 2 and as I say goodbye I’ll leave you with this video which shows everything I’ve spoken about. If you want to learn more or talk to us, then please connect with me or one of the team after the show…

<Express video plays>

Digital Threshold News: Introduction & Episode 1 Recap

Welcome to Digital Threshold News. In this newsletter, we’ll keep you up-to-date on all the latest insights and thought leadership from our Digital Threshold Live webcast series and podcasts.

These webcasts and podcasts give us the opportunity to bring you the latest industry trends and lessons learned from professionals and practitioners who are at the intersection of venues and technology to keep you ahead of the curve. The goal is to give you specific, targeted actions you can bring back to your organization and inspire you to think about how the future of the industry is taking shape.

In the first episode of Digital Threshold Live, “Safely Reopening New York’s Art Venues in a Pandemic,” host Anil Chitkara, Evolv Technology Co-Founder and Head of Corporate Development, was joined by three impressive industry guests:

  • Keith Prewitt, Chief Security Officer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Lisa Schroeder, Director of Finance, Performance and Campus Operations for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
  • Thomas Slade, Senior Security Director for the American Museum of Natural History

Alongside many of New York City’s cultural institutions, these leaders formed a coalition of sorts to bring together the city’s brightest minds in the face of the daunting task of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and, now, reopening efforts aimed at creating a safer environment in a city accustomed to approximately 60 million tourists annually.

Episode 1 Highlights

Chitkara and the trio of industry leaders discussed a variety of topics relating to public safety, public health, the customer journey and the path back to normal, including:

  • Safely reopening in the wake of the pandemic, including technologies and strategies helping make that possible
  • The impact of, and desire for, touchless customer experiences
  • The importance of risk mitigation and continuity plans that empower you to be agile and adaptable in an ever-changing environment
  • How art venues, in particular, are giving visitors and staff alike peace of mind
  • How the visitor journey is being impacted by social distancing, patron screening, and more
  • Emerging and re-emerging technologies, such as temperature screening

Venue security and venue reopening are complex topics, but leaders like Prewitt, Schroeder and Slade are developing a roadmap toward a new normal and beyond.

You can view the OnDemand version of the webcast by clicking on the video below.

 

To view other OnDemand episodes of Digital Threshold Live, click here.

Too busy to sit in front of your laptop and watch these webcasts? We offer these as a podcast. The Digital Threshold Podcast series is available on Apple, Google or Spotify.

5 minutes with Peter George – The rise of physical security screening technology

By: Maria Henriquez at Security Magazine

The pandemic has made one thing clear for security professionals across the globe, there is no going back to the old analog, invasive security screening methods we’ve used for decades such as metal detectors, hand wands and pat downs.

Evolv Technology CEO, Peter George, recently talked with Security Magazine where he called upon his decades-long track record in the cybersecurity industry to discuss how physical security is entering that same digital transformation.

In this interview, you’ll hear Peter discuss why the future of people screening must be touchless and digital in order to deal with the realities of today’s threats from weapons and viruses, and, while it’s impossible to specifically predict every new threat, digital technology makes it possible to reduce the window of exposure and minimize disruption. That’s what Evolv’s Digital Threshold vision could deliver, creating Agile Readiness.

Read the full interview.

The Rise of the Digital Threshold

The Rise of the Digital Threshold

By Peter George, CEO, Evolv Technology

The New Normal

Throughout this global pandemic period I’ve had many conversations with leaders responsible for people screening at live sports and entertainment venues, workplaces, schools, houses of worship, and outdoor theme parks across America. We’ve all felt a pandemic anxiety. Along with our heroic first responders, few feel it more acutely than these men and women responsible for helping people safely gather in a time when the act of gathering itself has become a mortal threat. Their entire world was shut down and is now in the process of reformatting and rebooting.

Most of the security leaders I am talking with are struggling with how to reopen safely, attract visitors, and stay open indefinitely. One thing I know for sure: there will be no going back to the old screening procedures. Why? Because three waves of change are combining to crest and crash down on the thresholds of their venues at the same time. The future of people screening will be quite different indeed, but it will be much, much better—at least for those who learn to adapt.

So, what are these three waves of change? They are the Normalization of Pandemics, Armed Anxiety, and the Digital Transformation of Physical Security. Let’s look at each in detail.

Wave 1: Normalization of Pandemics

Pandemic viruses turn unwitting visitors into weapons. COVID-19 has weaponized people in a way never seen before. Everyone now knows that packed crowds and human contact multiply the danger. Visitors and employees are looking at every venue and workplace with new eyes and formulating an internal risk score based on what they see. They are highly sensitized and are looking for evidence that the operators “get it” and have taken action. They don’t always know what they should expect, but they absolutely will expect security screening to be visibly different. COVID-19 has changed the risk profile of gatherings forever. A pandemic-aware security posture is the new normal.

Traditional high-touch entry screening is obsolete. Helping visitors feel safe in the new environment while delivering a financially sustainable entry throughput is just not possible with old metal detectors, manual bag inspections, and the resulting crowds. Along with new regulations and mandated protocols that venues must abide by, visitors and employees now also want to see a very orderly, safe, and socially-distanced people flow. A touchless visitor experience is part of the new normal.

A pandemic-aware security posture is not some passing fad. There have been six serious pandemics in just the last two decades: SARS, MERS, avian flu, swine flu, Ebola, and now COVID-19. Will there be more? Absolutely. Every physical security team must now develop the ability to adapt to future pandemics that are certainly on the way. Ongoing pandemic readiness is part of the new normal.

Evolv Technology customers, such as Six Flags and Hersheypark, have adapted to the pandemic by rolling out a new comprehensive health and safety plan for reopening their amusement parks. In the case of Six Flags, they’ve added thermal imaging for identifying guests with elevated body temperature and Evolv’s touchless security screening as part of their social-distancing procedures. We believe this is the beginning of a new trend of multi-threat screening that is changing venues and guest experiences forever.

Wave 2: Armed Anxiety

Research shows that there are as many as 393 million privately owned guns in circulation in the United States. The recent pandemic has spurred a new surge in gun purchases. More guns were sold in the first eight months of 2020 than were sold in all of last year. While most crime has significantly declined during the pandemic, shootings and killings remain at pre-pandemic levels.

Soon after pandemic lockdown orders started to lift, there was a venue-targeted active shooting incident in Arizona, and other active shooter incidents in Kansas and Texas. In 2020 the U.S. is on track to have an all-time record year for mass shootings, having reached the 2019 total of 417 on September 2, with four months still left to go.

The fact that shooting incidents persist amid the pandemic is unsurprising when we consider the historic levels of depression and anxiety that people are experiencing right now. The CDC reports that 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse during the pandemic—with the prevalence of anxiety being three times higher and depression four times higher than the same period last year.

The combination of an unprecedented number of weapons and unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression creates an unprecedented danger. We are living in an era of armed anxiety. Even though people are not gathering at scale today, that will change someday soon. Any gathering or workplace could be the next target. Any employee or visitor could suddenly erupt into the next violent threat. It could happen anywhere at any time.

Wave 3: The Digital Transformation of Physical Security

Outside the physical security world, businesses in every industry are unlocking efficiency and value by digitizing old manual and analog processes. They are re-imagining their organizations and operations in a future defined by software, data, sensors, mobility, networks, machine learning, automation, and analytics. It isn’t change for the sake of change; it’s change to allow the business to perform better in the modern world and be ready to respond more quickly to change in the future.

Anheuser-Busch InBev is using machine learning to help bars create more accurate orders, resulting in better customer satisfaction. Walmart is using shelf-scanning robots to optimize inventory performance. Black & Decker is using networked sensors to track the movement of materials in factories to increase labor efficiency and quality.

Is digital transformation worth the effort? Yes, with the greatest rewards going to those who start early and do it right. Across all industries, digital leaders clearly outperform the laggards in their industry in both growth and profitability according to recent Bain & Company research:

After comparing financial results for five categories of companies based on their degree of digital maturity, Bain found that revenues for the digital leaders grew 14 percent over the past three years, more than doubling the performance of the digital laggards in their industries. Profitability followed a similar pattern—83 percent of the leaders increased margins over that period while less than half of the industry laggards did so.

Unfortunately, physical security stands out as a laggard in digital transformation—especially when compared to the modern cybersecurity best practices that I am used to. Consider the findings of Accenture and Microsoft in their recent survey of physical security leaders:

“We found that although security leaders see the opportunity to enhance risk management with digital capabilities, the industry is at various levels of maturity, and at worst is a decade behind. Respondents identified “reactive threat management” and “intuition-led decision-making based on subjectivity” as the two leading challenges facing physical security operations today. These challenges—operating reactively and improving decision-making—make it difficult to be proactive. This puts your people, brand and reputation at risk.”

It’s not surprising that physical security managers are worried about “reactive threat management” and “intuition-led decisions” when their security screening technology hasn’t fundamentally changed since the 1920s and is completely devoid of digital data. Old analog metal detectors, hand wands, and manual bag inspections are artifacts of a pre-digital age. Weapons screening sometimes feels like the land that time forgot.

Today’s lack of modern technology in physical security operations has created an undue reliance on security staff. The security officers are burdened with an ever-growing list of tasks: watch out for bad behavior, answer guest’s questions, handle minor incidents, and clean up the physical space, in addition to the core screening role of manually checking everybody entering for prohibited items. There are simply too many things for any one security guard to manage.

Things could not be more different in the cybersecurity part of the business. Because cybersecurity was born inherently digital, cybersecurity professionals are immersed in oceans of digital data and refined pattern recognition based on cutting edge artificial intelligence. They have deep and meaningful analytics and real-time threat intelligence that help them adapt to new threats, in real time, and continuously tighten their perimeter.

The Rise of the Digital Threshold

How long will it be until we close the gap between the digital haves in cyber and the digital have-nots in physical security? It’s already happening. A new vision and technology architecture are emerging. We call this vision the Digital Threshold. The Digital Threshold vision applies the proven patterns of digital transformation and cybersecurity to everything that happens in the space people cross as they enter and exit modern venues and facilities.

Within the Digital Threshold vision, venues and facilities can intelligently use data to create a frictionless experience for guests and employees. The result is an entry process that enhances the overall experience instead of diminishing it as it so often does today.

Making weapons screening faster and more precise is part of the Digital Threshold vision, but it’s just the beginning. What if the entry experience could also seamlessly integrate digital health screening and health credential processing into the screening process? What if electronic ticketing, VIP identification, and BOLO alerts could also be part of the same seamless flow? And what if the Digital Threshold generated useful analytics that enable data-driven decisions about system adjustments and people flows? All of this is part of the Digital Threshold vision that not only addresses the current environment, but also creates the ability to adapt and flex to handle future needs as necessary.

The Digital Threshold as a Technology Architecture

The Digital Threshold is more than just a vision for frictionless entry experiences—it’s a digital technology architecture of components that work together to realize the vision. These components include Sensors, Analytics, and Actions, all on top of the AI Platform.

Sensors

In the Digital Threshold vision, sensors work together to spot multiple threats and to supply useful insights about visitors. Each sensor fills in a different part of the picture. Data from magnetic field sensors make it possible to see the difference between a gun and a smartphone. Thermal imaging cameras provide the raw data that makes it possible to spot people with elevated body temperature—a sign of potential infection. Visible light cameras could gather the imagery needed to count visitors, estimate visitor demographics, and identify visitors as employees, VIP season pass holders, or known threats. Microphones, biometric and credential readers, and other types of sensors could supply added insights about who and what is coming through the Digital Threshold.

As threats evolve and new sensors emerge, the Digital Threshold sensor array can expand as needed. Rather than sending visitors through an obstacle course of standalone technologies, the Digital Threshold allows venues to touchlessly screen for multiple threats in a single concept of operation (CONOP).

AI Software Platform

Digital Threshold sensors produce a flood of raw digital data that must be stored, organized, and turned into meaningful information. That’s where the AI software platform comes in. It’s the brains of the Digital Threshold vision.

AI uses machine learning to spot complex patterns in data. More data and more kinds of data make machine learning models more precise over time. Having multiple digital sensors makes it possible to bring everything together in a way that increases situational awareness.

The core value of the Digital Threshold vision is embodied in software. The hardware is almost incidental and will someday come in many different forms. Instead of installing new hardware to improve accuracy, the machine learning models could be upgraded just like the software on smartphones. This completely changes the game of system upgrades. As the Digital Threshold gets smarter over time, rolling out new capabilities becomes a matter of clicks, not forklifts.

At Evolv, we call our AI software platform the Evolv Cortex AI™. From the beginning we designed Cortex AI to be upgradable and extensible across a wide variety of threats. It’s the brain of all our products and an early expression of the Digital Threshold vision.

Actions

When the AI software platform identifies a problem, imagine if the Digital Threshold action flow engine could spring into action to orchestrate the appropriate response. It’s about much more than beeps and alarms. Imagine if visitors could see a temporary “Slow Down” message when sensors detect crowding that violates social distancing requirements. If a potential weapon is spotted, the visitor might be visually directed to a weapon screening resolution station on the left, while a person with elevated body temperature could be directed to a health screening station on the right. Season ticket holders might be greeted with a “Welcome Back!” display.

Whatever the situation, the Digital Threshold could guide visitors and guard staff with a suitable programmed response. The key word is programmed. Because it would be a software workflow engine, actions could be changed and customized over time without a hardware upgrade. It’s software-defined physical security that could prove to be just as revolutionary as software-defined networking.

Analytics

Because the Digital Threshold feeds on digital data, it could become possible to generate an ever-growing number of useful analytics to help plan and execute a frictionless experience. For example, based on the type of event, day of the week, forecast weather, and current tour of a specific performer, a Digital Threshold-equipped venue manager could potentially answer questions like the following:

  • What time did the arrival rate peak before last week’s event?
  • What is the mix of families and demographics of individuals coming through different entrances?
  • Is entrance throughput consistent with our social distancing guidelines?
  • Which doors seem to attract the most VIPs?
  • What are the demographic characteristics of our visitors by entrance?
  • What is the alarm rate at each entrance?
  • What are the top threats detected at each entrance?

Once the data is in an analytics platform, there is almost no end to the questions we might answer. Remember the Accenture and Microsoft research finding that physical security managers were worried about “intuition-led decisions?” Having powerful analytics could be a huge step down the path to data-driven decision-making. These analytic insights not only keep people safely moving based on their risk profile but also allow for venues to monetize the visitor experience more effectively.

Toward Agile Readiness

These four components of the Digital Threshold come together to transform the screening process to both block today’s known threats and quickly adapt to future threats as they emerge. I call this the state of “Agile Readiness.” Modern venues with agile readiness can quickly flex and surge into whatever comes next.

While it is impossible to specifically predict every new threat, digital technology makes it possible to reduce the window of exposure and minimize disruption. It’s about generating, harnessing, and trusting data to make the most important decisions about safety instantaneously. It’s about maintaining a security posture that engenders trust and confidence among employees and visitors. It’s security that is obvious but low-profile, strong but not invasive, fast but not cumbersome. That’s what the Digital Threshold vision could deliver, creating Agile Readiness.

Software Eats the World of Physical Security

Web pioneer Marc Andreessen has famously claimed that “software is eating the world” and I completely agree with him. The most interesting thing about cars these days is the software that makes them more efficient and safer. The most interesting thing about a watch these days is the software that makes it a fitness and health tracker and an extension of my phone rather than just a timepiece. The hardware of modern technology is still important, but more often only as a vessel for the innovative software it contains.

At Evolv, we are bringing the “software eats the world” phenomenon to security screening, and it’s already creating incredible value for our customers. Our early implementation of the Digital Threshold vision is successfully devouring the old security screening technologies, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It’s also empowering security teams to do an even better job of keeping people safe while optimizing financial and staff resources.

The software platform supplies the brain and connective tissue to integrate capabilities of new emerging technologies that transform the new visitor or fan experience. It becomes the security platform to seamlessly integrate biometrics, video analytics, crowd intelligence, health posture data, electronic ticketing, and on-demand liability wavers to allow for a frictionless visitor, employee, and fan experience in a post COVID-19 world.

We have made substantial progress in realizing the Digital Threshold vision in the Evolv product line. Customers are telling us we have it right, but in many ways, we are just getting started. There’s a lot of room left to apply artificial intelligence to physical security, including new types of sensors to consider and analytics to create. It’s an extremely exciting time.

Addressing the realities of pandemics and armed anxiety while also developing the potential of digital transformation will require a new approach. We must reimagine these challenges and opportunities in a whole new light, unbound by legacy technologies or preconceived, outdated ideas. Armies of people using old ways of working simply cannot keep the public safe. The old solutions don’t scale wide enough or deep enough to address these threats everywhere they can appear. Much like we’ve seen in other industries, technology can fundamentally bend the curve back in our favor and return peace of mind. And peace of mind is what we all want and deserve, now more than ever.

One Chance to Get it Right

I believe that the realization of the Digital Threshold vision is inevitable, and the time to get started is now. I also believe that the transition will create winners and losers. Facilities that embrace and adapt to the digital future will earn lasting trust and long-term viability and loyalty. Facilities that are slow to adapt may never recover from the resulting loss of business and trust.

If you’d like to join us on the journey toward the Digital Threshold, consider attending our new Digital Threshold Live webcast series. We’ll be speaking with leading experts to explore the business drivers, technologies, and human dimensions of the Digital Threshold vision.