5 Minutes with Peter George – The Rise of Physical Security Screening Technology.

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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.

A Look at Touchless Security Screening

New security screening requirements in a post-pandemic world

Pre-pandemic, venue screening procedures relied on metal detectors, hand wands, and invasive bag inspections. While it was evident those methods were inefficient, frustrating and intrusive, in the pandemic-sensitive world, they are far too slow and manual and will result in unsafe crowding and dangerous physical contact.

The days of putting our phones and bags in containers handled by security guards are over

At Evolv, we are solving the security screening problems of today with the most innovative technology and thinking, making it possible for venues of all kinds to keep visitors and employees safe from concealed weapons and pandemic health threats.

In the wake of COVID-19, a fundamentally new approach to security screening is necessary for venues to safely reopen. To help people visualize what this screening looks like, we’ve produced a new video highlighting Evolv Express™ in action at several customer locations.

It’s security screening that is touchless, respectful and efficient.

 

Click here to read more about Evolv Express, or fill out this form to schedule a meeting and be on your way to creating a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

Reimagining Recreation

By: Julie Zomar & Sandi Marcus

In late May, Evolv hosted the “Adaptive Recovery” Webinar with Juliette Kayyem, former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Juliette spoke about crisis management using her Adaptive Recovery Framework for managing an organization’s reopening and recovery across a variety of different sectors of the economy. At that time, planning was underway for schools to eventually reopen and for workplaces and recreation entities to reopen. This blog post has been excerpted from Juliette’s discussion on the webinar and expanded on.

Click here or on the image below to download the full webinar.

A month has now gone by, and while many organizations have put their plans into action, others continue to prepare for their reopening in the coming weeks and months. Many states have begun to lighten their restrictions, allowing restaurants, businesses and stores to reopen. And, even some theme parks and aquariums are opening their doors. Regardless of where you are on your reopening timeline, Juliette’s sage advice is worthy of embrace:

  1. Go slow, have a plan AND a back-up plan
  2. Embrace the “now normal” and use all available tools and resources
  3. When integrating technology, opt for ones with longevity and flexibility

Here’s What We Learned for the Recreation Sector.

The bad news is while the virus is new, crisis management isn’t. The good news is we have expertise and experience in crisis management. This pandemic is nothing if not a crisis. 

First things first …. don’t think about opening up as a moment in time or a threshold to cross; think of it as an organic process. Here’s why. In times of crises, like hurricanes or tornadoes, there is a moment of “boom” and the enemy is gone, response and recovery begin – a specific moment or crossing a threshold if you will. In this crisis, the enemy isn’t gone and in fact and unfortunately, will be around for a while – – this is a “rolling boom” hence the need to continually adapt.

Key Questions to Ask Yourself.

As security, operations and guest experience managers, the reality is we’ll have to continue to adapt to the virus in real-time and over time. That means planning, re-planning, embracing new governmental requirements, responding to new outbreaks and eventually, hopefully, administering a vaccine.

But the common thread through the multitude of plans is risk reduction, a balancing act based on three elements:

  1. What’s the intensity of the interaction?  Can I limit the number of people?
  2. Can I control the number of interactions? Is it possible to social distance? Am I able to enforce crowd control?
  3. What is my ability to mitigate? Can the cleaning protocols be modified? Is detection possible? Do I have access to testing capabilities?

Where Does this Leave Us?

Two things we know for certain:  social distancing and touchless security/venue features will allow you to come back more quickly and ensure patron safety.

Specifically, for entertainment and recreation entities, here are a number of areas you can focus on as you plan your reopening, or continue to adjust over time. We’ve outlined changes based on your customer’s journey, from the time the individual approaches your venue or facility until they are inside and enjoying themselves!

Communication & Planning Prior to Arrival

Planning their Visit

One of the best ways to provide peace of mind, entice visitors to your venue and ensure they are well informed is by providing clear communication to them in advance. Use your website, create a video, use social media accounts, e-newsletters and email reminders to communicate the importance you have put on the cleanliness of the venue and the care around staff interaction with guests, as well as the considerations you ask of your guests to adhere to guidelines for the safety of all.  And, don’t forget your employees. Consider implementing an employee health survey they take before arrival to work.

Paperless Ticketing

Go Mobile. When possible, implement paperless ticketing utilizing an app or email to provide patrons/guests with a scannable QR code or barcode for entry. A significant reduction in the use of paper tickets will eliminate surfaces from which germs can be spread. Don’t forget, additional benefits to implementing paperless ticketing is guests will no longer forget their tickets at home or have to stand in will-call lines. And, there is less fear of stolen tickets.

Stagger Arrival Times

If possible, a great way to help avoid crowds in the parking lot, on the trams or buses to the park entrances and at the park or venue front gates is to stagger arrival times. Just like the airlines provide boarding zones, and golf courses are now staggering tee times, you could implement entrance times or zones in advance to help keep the flow moving at a steady pace instead of bottlenecking anywhere on premise.

Contactless Guest Screening at Arrival

Ensuring the safety and health of guests and staff has required a number of measures to be put in place.  These include asking patrons and guests to assess the risk they have coronavirus and could infect others, screening for elevated body temperature, and screening to detect and prevent weapons from entering.

Temperature Screening

How might you institute temperature screening to mitigate risk of allowing someone with a high fever with potential contagions into your venue? Will you use handheld temperature reading devices or larger touchless ones? Who will be overseeing the thermal read-outs and making the judgement calls on whether the numbers are accurate? Do you need to hire dedicated medical staff to manage this function?

What will you do when someone is found with an elevated temperature? It will be extremely important to have a policy and procedure in place and have properly trained your staff on how to react. You’ll also want to consider including language in your Venue Guidelines document or website that addresses what happens if a person is found with an elevated temperature, especially as it pertains to refunds and what to do with the rest of their party.

Touchless Weapons Screening

Many of you already had weapons screening in place to safeguard your venue, but prior to COVID-19 did they create long lines and force contact between guards and fans or guests? We have now entered a new phase of venue security where both weapons and health screening is important, meaning the systems used “yesterday” such as traditional metal detectors, pat downs and manual bag checks will no longer be the systems capable of screening for threats of “today” or “tomorrow”.

Consider a touchless security screening solution that can screen people and their belongings in real-time as they walk through your doors without long lines, and without invasive search procedures. You should look to technology that will grow with you over time, adapting to new threats and allowing you to add-on additional features and sensors for cost savings and increased security in the future.

Social Distancing & Hygiene Once Inside

Spaced Seating

Being able to boast that you sold out every seat will be a thing of the past for a while. It’s time to get creative. What can you do to change your seating structure to reduce the intensity of interaction and limit number of interactions? Can you sell every other or every third ticket? Do you have sections for parties of 6 to make it easier for groups to stick together without having to readjust your entire new seating chart? There are plenty of diagrams you can consider and put in place depending on attendance levels and venue layout.

Source: How COVID-19 Could Impact Theatre Design

If you’re an outdoor venue with “lawn seating”, you might want to put up ropes or mark off seats with tape or chalk to help enforce distancing.

For theme parks and attractions, it will be easy to manage seating positions of park guests on rides by training staff to control the seating placement, and the IAAPA has identified some guidelines to help you think about capacities that allow for physical distancing.

Touchless Concessions

Across the country restaurants have had to reinvent themselves. In many states, eating in a restaurant is still prohibited, so restaurants have had to think outside the box on how to serve customers and keep revenue flowing. Some have opened up outdoor dining sections taking over parking lots, lawns, city streets and sidewalks, and many now offer take-out or delivery to ensure people can have their favorite gourmet food but eat in the comfort of their own home. For some restaurants, that means they are now accepting credit cards, PayPal or Venmo for the first time ever; some are offering a contactless self-ordering system and table service; others are having patrons scan a QR code for their food or drinks menu, make reservations or even connect to a restaurants payment tool. And, once self-serve, salad bars in restaurants and grocery stores are now open again with one distinct change, employees are now dishing out the patrons’ selections.

You can use some or all of these lessons learned from restaurants across the country to update your concession stands. Start with how to limit or erase lines. Do you allow certain sections to go to certain concession stands? Do you add more pop-up food stations to create more places to purchase food? Or better yet, do you launch/create an app for virtual queuing where the fan or guest selects the concession stand they’d like to purchase from and add themselves to that line, when it’s their turn, they are signaled to walk over to the concession? Or best of all, why not use an app in combination with waiters/waitresses; the fan or park guest downloads the app, orders their food and pays online, a waiter/waitress brings the food right to their seat.

Next, make sure you go touchless. Bring those condiment carts behind the counter and have your staff serve them. And, don’t forget about menus. If you usually hand out laminated menus reused with each guest, it’s time to throw them out unless you plan to sanitize them after every use. Although some venues have opted to print one-time-use paper menus, the cost to you and the environment will add up.  Think about implementing an app or QR codes for ordering.

Hygiene Stations & Touchless Amenities

Keeping areas clean is paramount to stopping the spread of germs. Have you asked yourself how often railings, door handles, counters and bathrooms should be cleaned? Do you need to hire additional janitorial staff to ensure these areas are maintained? Do you have pop-up handwashing and/or hand-sanitizing stations throughout your venue or park? Do you remove all drinking fountains and install water bottle refill stations that are managed by staff and sanitized between each use?

What about your faucets, toilets and paper towel dispensers…are they automatic, or do they involve the turning of a handle? While some of these would be costly renovations after already losing revenue these last few months, you can choose a variety of ways to make your venue or facility cleaner and keep the presence and spread of germs to a bare minimum.

The Moral of this Story…

No matter how much you prepare in advance of reopening, one thing is for certain – you will need to watch, measure, evaluate and be ready to make adjustments as necessary.

Adhere to your local government guidelines and embrace the physical and technical adaptations you can make, to build confidence among your returning visitors, patrons and fans and ensure a safe and fun time for all.

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Additional reopening trends, guidance and guidelines can be found on our COVID-19 Reopening Resources page.

Interview: Evolv powers Six Flags’ new touch-less way to go through theme park security

REPOST: MAY 29, 2020 BY SETH KUBERSKY, ATTRACTIONS MAGAZINE

Imagine going through theme park security without having to open all your bags and allowing a security guard to look through your things, or not even having to put your bags into an x-ray machine. That may be the case soon at some Six Flags parks.

As attractions begin reopening after their coronavirus closures, theme parks are reevaluating the security screenings their guests go through in light of social distancing measures, and Anil Chitkara’s company, Evolv Technology, has introduced an innovative touch-free system Six Flags recently featured in a video highlighting their parks’ new safety procedures.

Ever since 9/11, theme parks have implemented various types of security screenings to ensure that guests don’t enter with weapons or other prohibited items. The Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts use a combination of manual bag inspections and walk-through metal detectors, while Universal resorts employ automated bag-screening machines and walk-through metal detectors. However, in announcing their reopening plans, Six Flags has released the following video depicting the use of the Evolv Express security system in their parks, which permits guests and their belongings to be inspected while walking through without removing or opening their bags at all:

The new bag screening system depicted in Six Flags’ video comes from Evolv Technology, which was co-founded by Anil Chitkara. Six Flags will only confirm that the chain has ordered 37 Evolv Express units, but is not sharing publicly at this time at which parks (in addition to Frontier City) they’ll be used at, or how many units per park. Chitkara himself was unable to confirm or provide any specific details about his company’s involvement with Six Flags (a standard contractual limitation in the security industry). However, he did provide us this exclusive interview about how his team is helping to keep guests both safe and happy in the age of COVID-19. (Note: this interview has been edited for space and clarity.)

How did Evolv Technologies get started?

We started the company about seven years ago, myself and my co-founder, named Mike Ellenbogen. Mike has been in the physical security industry for 20 years after Pan Am 103 … My background is more sort of business and technology. And we’d known each other for 15 years at that point.

Anil Chitkara, founder of Evolv Technology

I had sold the company I was at, Mike sold the company that he was at, and we were trying to figure out what to do next. There were two pieces of motivation: the Boston Marathon bombing, and 9/11. In the case of 9/11, my college roommate and good friend was in the north tower; had just gotten married, had a kid and unfortunately, he was part of Cantor Fitzgerald [headquarters], which was tragic.

In the case of the marathon, my wife is a marathoner. She had run that marathon. I had my three young kids at the finish line. She finished about 45 minutes before the first bomb went off, got in the car and came home … and then all of the news happened. A good friend of ours was there, actually, he got hit with the second bomb and has fragmentation.

It really caused me to think about, what do I want to do next? And how do I want to spend the next 10 to 20 years? I had done a lot with technology to solve business problems. Mike had done a lot to bring innovative technology to physical security. And we went out and talked to lots of people about how they were trying to keep their venue safe.

I thought about my kids. I don’t want them to have to live a life where it is airport-style screening everywhere they go. I want them to be able to live as freely as possible, but also as safely as possible. And that was my personal motivation around starting a company.

Where is your technology currently in use?

At the end of 2017, we started deploying technology, so it’s been deployed and screening people since the end of 2017. We’ve screened well over 50 million people since it’s been deployed; it’s probably closer to 60 million people now. And our customers have used the technology to find thousands of weapons. The types of places where it’s deployed are largely commercial venues, so those have been performing arts centers, sporting stadiums, museums, and tourist locations. They’ve largely been places where they hadn’t used walk-through metal detectors up to that point; they’d been trying them, but they just weren’t doing the trick. They basically were too invasive relative to the visitors that were coming in.

About a year ago, we launched the second product, which is the Evolv Express product [which is what is featured in Six Flags’ video]. We’ve screened millions of people with that product. There were two very large events we did last fall screening with Express. One of them was a week long conference in San Francisco where we screened about 500,000 people, and then there was a second conference we did a month later where we screened about 400,000 people. So there’s been some very large-scale, high volume deployments that have been used the system. There are other applications where people are screening it using it for visitors on a daily basis.

We haven’t yet used it in a theme park environment. We’ve used it in large-scale events, and we’ve used them in some sporting events in some performing arts and entertainment events. But not a theme park event up to now.

What’s the hourly guest capacity and staffing requirement of the Evolv Express?

One unit of Express has two lanes. Each of those lanes could do 1,800 guests an hour, or 3,600 for that combined system. That compares to a walk through metal detector where they’re doing “take things out, check the body, check the bags,” those tend to be about 250 to 300, maybe 350 people per hour. So this is about 10 times the speed of a traditional approach.

If we look at the walk-through metal detector, let’s say you need 10 units. They tend to have two and a half people per unit; they have a front and a back and a supervisor. For us, you tend to have between four and six people per unit, so the staffing is significantly reduced.

The turnover in the security guard industry in the U.S. is 300% or three times a year, the entire industry. Therefore, training and getting skilled guards is a challenge, so we have automated some of the key tasks [and] provided a level of automation that assists the guard, so that they can be very targeted in their search.

What are the advantages to Evolv Express over traditional bag screening methods in a COVID-19 reopening environment?

Ninety days ago, we used to talk about 3,600 people an hour coming through; today, we talk about a touchless contact screening process. If I’m going through those 42-inch-wide lanes, without taking anything off and going right through and the alarm rate is extremely low, then I keep going; thousands of people are going through never being touched by a security guard. One benefit is the proximity of guard-to-visitor is lower, because they walk right through. A second benefit is the speed enables people to go through quickly without lines building up, so are eliminating visitor-to-visitor proximity as you’re waiting in line to go through security. And then anybody that’s looking at bags manually is touching every bag; people are trying to figure out how can I have less touch, but fundamentally, you’ve got to look in the bag when you’re doing a manual process.

How does Evolv Express improve the overall guest experience?

There’s so much work and effort that’s put in around the visitor experience, but then the security experience just grinds things to a halt. There is excitement, you get there, you want to get in, you want to participate or listen or enjoy the entertainment, and then grinding to a halt because I’ve got to stop, I’ve got to put my bag down, I’ve got to take everything out of my pockets. That’s we’re trying to fundamentally change: that visitor experience. That’s essentially one of the key principles of the technology we’ve developed.

Have there been studies demonstrating your technology’s detection rate compared to the more traditional methods?

We’ve done a number of studies with both government and commercial organizations, and a number of large organizations will do the testing themselves. They’ll do lab-based testing: we’ll take a system and run a bunch of threats through and a bunch of nuisance alarm items that they’ll read. And they’ll actually put threats on individuals and have them go through the system in operation. We’ve done that extensively; we can’t share specific customers or specific examples of what’s been done, but that’s been done a number of times in the U.S. and Europe. And what they had found is that the detection rate is a combination of the technology, plus the people operating it, plus the processing protocols … The breakdown oftentimes comes in the guards or the protocols relative to that overall system, so what’s been told to us is the effectiveness of the overall system has been much higher with our technology as part of an overall system than with the traditional technology.

How is the Evolv Express system priced?

We don’t publicly share actual pricing levels. We have a subscription model … a per month fee, not “buy it and you own it forever.” We include improvements, upgrades, service, and everything all combined into that one monthly price. So the pricing model is something we believe is pretty unique in the industry.

What is your current outlook as attractions reopen after the pandemic quarantine?

Everybody sort of hunkered down when COVID hit right. There was a lot of “how am I going to respond to this?” Over the last four weeks, we’ve had a significant amount of inquiries from organizations as they plan their reopening. And many of these organizations have used the “mag and bag,” (the walk through a metal detector and bag) approach in the past and they just don’t believe that’s the right way to go to do it going forward. What’s changed is they’re trying to balance the public health threat and the public safety threat, and do something that considers both of those.

It’s going to be different going forward. It needs to be lower touch, it needs to be cognizant of the public health risks, as well as the public safety risks. And so they’re looking to our technology to be able to help them enable that.

For more information on Evolv, visit evolvtechnology.com.

Evolv Express™ vs. the Traditional Metal Detector


By: Julie Zomar, Director of Marketing, Evolv Technology

In today’s era of viral violence, we should no longer be screening with yesterday’s technology.  Manual inspections, hand wands and traditional metal detectors are slow, invasive, inefficient, involve too many nuisance alarms and create long lines, forcing venues to choose between safety and the visitor experience. 

Did you know, some venues are actually opting not to implement any security at all because they’d rather not make the trade-off between safety and visitor experience?  This can’t be the choice you make.   

Deploying screening technology in your venue is no longer something you and your team should dread or delay. With Evolv Express™, the first-of-its-kind free-flow weapons-detection system, visitors and employees walk through while simultaneously being screened for potential threats.

Through the power of AI, Express instantly differentiates threats from personal items such as keys, coins, belts and cell phones, making it easy for guards and frictionless for visitors. In fact, visitors no longer need to stop, empty pockets or remove bags.  They simply walk right through at a natural pace one-at-a-time or in groups.  It’s the fastest weapons-screening product on the market, screening 60 people every minute.  That’s 3,600 people per hour – 10X faster than a traditional metal detector.

This two-lane system is approximately 11 feet wide and requires far fewer guards than traditional metal detectors to manage. In fact, some venues are seeing a 70% reduction in labor costs

For those of you accustomed to traditional metal detectors, it’s going to be a positive shock…

  • You no longer need a large footprint for security equipment
  • Long, frustrating security screening lines will no longer form outside your venue
  • Guards will now be able to conduct targeted searches using image-aided alarms
  • And, your labor costs will decrease by up to 70%

Finally, venues can stop threats, while assuring a welcoming visitor and employee experience.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Express-vs-WTMD-800-ppl-per-hr-1024x476.png

If at 800 people per hour, you need 50% less screening equipment, and 60% fewer guards, imagine what your coop would look like as your visitor throughput needs increase. Download our full infographic to see what screening 1200, 1600, 2400 and 3600 people per hour would look like with Evolv Express versus traditional metal detectors.

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.

TSA Sickout Creates Opportunities to Improve Airport Security

Crowded Airport Terminal

By Bill McAteer, Account Executive at Evolv Technology –

Prior to the government shutdown being temporarily lifted, a TSA ‘sickout’ resulted in a disruption of service that had a direct impact on the security and experience of today’s travelers. This provides a good lesson on how we can shape the future of airport security.

Driven by the prospect of continuing to work without pay, more than 10 percent of TSA agents protested by holding a sickout. To compound matters, many TSA agents also chose to leave the industry entirely, finding new jobs during the shutdown.

The protests had a direct impact on security and the customer experience as the lack of screeners forced airports such as Miami International and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to shut down some screening areas, causing longer lines and longer delays.

Here’s the reality – the majority of travelers dread airport security as it is. The thought of long lines, combined with potentially invasive searches on them personally by TSA personnel, creates angst for many travelers.

But what this problem exposed is that our current model of airport security is broken. Security shouldn’t be beholden to workforce issues and performance concerns. Airports need to use this opportunity to modernize the infrastructure, their processes and the screening solutions supporting their security workforce.

In addition to existing checkpoints, technology such as advanced sensors, AI and biometrics can be deployed at the landside area of the airport to dramatically improve the customer experience of security, while improving security itself.

In this model, travelers walk through portable security gates before reaching terminal security. The advanced screening solutions can detect explosives and firearms in a rapid manner – without any of the false positives from items like keys, phone and belt buckles.  And, as threats evolve, solutions on the landside area of the airport become much more important.

These technologies have also proven incredibly effective in employee screening deployments at airports such as Oakland International.

In addition, advanced weapon and bomb protection improves security throughput dramatically – with fewer requirements for manual labor. This allows airports to allocate security personnel to where they can have the most visible and positive effect – and helps eliminate customer experience concerns caused by workforce issues.

There’s no doubt that TSA agents were in a difficult situation, being forced to work without pay. But this broader issue has shined a light on the ongoing security problem that airports struggle with. Advanced screening technology can be used in critical areas throughout an airport, helping balance security needs with the requirements to provide superior customer service.

Photo Credit: Floris Van Cauwelaert

Protect against insider threats with employee screening at airports

Evaluating the Need for Weapons Screening at Performing Arts Venues

Opera House Featured Image

By Neil Sandhoff, Vice President of North America –

Determining the need for a weapons policy and a threat detection solution at performing arts centers involves more than the security director to make purchasing and implementation decisions. From budget, policy and patron experience, the leadership team must work together to organize, evaluate, plan and implement and communicate such an important initiative.

This is entirely understandable. It’s one thing to work with a director of security and their technical staff, who are measured on their ability to keep employees, customers and other visitors safe. But involving the front-of-the-house team and human resources, who are responsible for creating the best customer and employee experience possible, is an even higher bar. A bad experience–say, delays or pat-down searches–can have a direct downward impact on sales. So if the front-of-the-house thinks a weapons screening technology is a bad idea, it probably won’t be seriously considered.

At least that’s how it has been. I’ve been focused on providing security solutions for over 15 years, but am now seeing the first meaningful shift in the relationship between security and the patron experience teams. Given the rise of senseless lone-shooter attacks in the U.S., many venues are coming to believe – or are at least are willing to entertain the possibility – that patrons will tolerate reasonable inconveniences for added security as long as it doesn’t degrade the overall experience too much. In fact, some of our customers believe their patrons want to make that trade-off. They want to know the people in charge of the facility they’re visiting understand the nagging “could it happen here” feeling they have on a night out.

This is especially true with performing arts venues, given the horrific attacks like those that took place in Manchester, England and Las Vegas, Nevada. In fact, executives at some of these venues are increasingly stretching their purview beyond the front door and into the street where people wait in line for popular events. Due to the increase in terror attacks using rented trucks and other vehicles, such as in Nice, France and Barcelona, Spain, venues are looking for ways to get people off the street as quickly as possible and into the safety of their facility.

The fact that patrons must already stop to hand over or scan a ticket creates a natural opportunity to do screening in a way that won’t cause delays. We did a time study at a Broadway theater earlier this year and found that the ticket-taking process typically takes around five to 10 seconds per person in a live environment. If we can help the venue screen the patron in that time or less, everybody wins.

Unlike many pro sports stadiums, which have had checkpoints and metal detectors for decades, many of these smaller, arts-related venues are adding physical security for the first time. Many don’t even have security chiefs. And yet performing arts is one of our fastest-growing segments.  If you work for a performing arts venue or any other type of company that is looking to create a security strategy as quickly and efficiently as possible, here are a few best practices:

Get out of the security silo, fast: In the old days, the trick to implementing physical security was to work with the head of security and let him or her try to overcome the natural resistance from other factors in their environment. But we’ve found it works best when representatives from the front-of-the-house, finance, facilities and human resources, were involved in the sales process, ideally from the initial conversation.  The security director provided a clear understanding to all the leadership team the consequences of an active shooter and suicide bomber in the facility and the solutions available to deter or prevent such a terrible event.

The more buy-in, the better: As security becomes a higher priority for a company, it makes sense to expand the number of seats at the table when considering new security solutions.  The most celebrated accomplishments in implementing security screening at Performing Arts Centers I have witnessed involved the inclusion of the entire leadership team from the beginning.   The CEO needs to bring their teams together and keep engaged throughout the process, clearly identifying their end-state goals and understanding of the tradeoffs.    In one very successful scenario we witnessed, the chief executive officer directly led the process which involved security, human resources, front-of-house, facilities and finance to drive towards the optimal solution.

Security content kit for performing arts centers

Five Factors to Improve Today’s Physical Security Screening Experience

Hand Held Metal Detector

By Chris McLaughlin, Vice President, Global Solutions, Evolv Technology –

Security screening technology is often measured by three factors – detection, alarm rates and throughput. At the macro level, these three metrics give a broad sense of whether or not a device will improve an overall security process. However, these three pieces don’t tell the whole story. Two other factors, closely tied to throughput, flesh out the overall security trade space. They are “touch rate” and “divestiture.”

  • The traditional factors – detection, alarm rates and throughput.
  • The five “must consider” factors – detection, alarm rates and throughput, along with touch rate and divestiture.

Only when the entire set of factors is considered as a whole, can the effectiveness and efficiency of the device be evaluated. In today’s world where physical security screening has become the “norm” in more and more of the places we gather, the latter two factors become increasingly important — to find a purpose-built device and the right process.

The age-old adage “there are two sides to every coin” speaks volumes. While “throughput” is important to security operators, it’s the combination of throughput, touch rate, and divestiture that matters to your customer.

With this is mind, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) created the TSA Precheck Program, the focus was specifically on two things beyond detection: 1) touching people less and 2) letting them leave everyday items on or in their pockets and in bags. While “throughput” wasn’t the central tenant of the program, it was believed that doing the first two things for a growing population of travelers would ultimately speed up throughput for all travelers.

When the program was created its authors wondered whether these two things would be material enough to make a difference in the physical screening experience. More than half a decade later, there is a clear differentiation between the highly customer-focused TSA Precheck practice and “regular” screening, underscoring the point that customers place high value on an improved experience.

Customer experience matters.

Not all customer environments will be the same; each will have slightly different objectives. Some will be in high threat locations; others will not. Regardless of the customer or their venue, the following things will always ring true. First, your physical screening system must detect threats at a high level and with limited alarms. Second, your physical screening system must do this in a way that keeps people moving, minimizes physical touching and allows them to walk at their pace without losing control of their belongings. Finally, in a world of limited or shrinking budgets, your system must be able to deliver efficiencies – either in terms of hard budget savings or repurposed security resources.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s possible that you’re implementing a comprehensive security screening solution for the first time. Or, perhaps, you’ve already implemented something in response to growing threats over the past decade. In either case, I encourage you not to start at square one. Why not learn from the organization that has been the face of post 9-11 security for almost two decades? Certainly, the TSA has made mistakes. And, thankfully, they have also made significant advances. You can learn from both, and you don’t have to spend a decade to do it.

Consider the five factors discussed above and evaluate your overall security process through a customer lens. Is the technology in your current process, or the one you are considering, purpose built to meet today’s security concerns while also preserving the culture, look, and feel of your venue? If it isn’t, you have options. There will always be two sides to this coin, but there are ways to ensure that both shine for decades to come. Contact us to find out how.

Read more here about balancing improving security with customer experience at Gillette Stadium.

Note: To underscore the importance of the customer experience, I highlighted the tangible changes to TSA Precheck screening. It’s important to acknowledge the foundation of the program is built on the concepts of trust and access, and the public’s willingness to share personal information for the benefit of this streamlined screening experience.