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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.

Airport Security: When it Comes to Employees, Metal Detectors Are the Problem

By: Bill McAteer

The aviation security community has always been proactive and innovative with the introduction of new security technologies, policies and strategies. Whether its revamping screening processes for carry-on bags or drones for perimeter security, adoption rates for new technology aimed at thwarting threats has always been a consistent focus the aviation community. Yet there is one area of airport security that remains unsolved – insider employee threats.

While the vast majority of airport employees are not threats, out of the estimated 1 million employees working in airports nationwide, it’s hard to overstate the importance of the need to protect against the insider threat. Especially with the steady uptick in insider threat incidents in recent years, A few examples include a baggage handler for Hartsfield-Jackson that was sentenced for gun smuggling, nine Dallas airport employees that admitted they plotted to smuggle drugs, weapons and plastic explosives, and a Horizon Air worker who stole and flew a commercial aircraft over the Seattle area.

Employees and Passengers Are Not the Same 

Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple as applying the passenger screening process to employees. While passengers plan to arrive hours before their flight to account for the expected airport security lines, it is unfair to expect the same scenario out of employees.

When shift changes occur, hundreds and in some cases, thousands of airport workers enter the airport at once. Forcing those individuals to undergo the slow-moving and single-file screening process that is required of passengers would inevitably prevent employees from getting to their posts at their scheduled start time, thus causing flight delays, which can negatively impact passenger satisfaction and airline finances.

Metal Detectors Are Part of the Problem 

These differences in screening scenarios shine light on the severe limitations of using metal detectors in the screening process.  

The technology in metal detectors is designed to detect only metal and is unable to differentiate between other everyday metallic items, such as cell phones or belt buckles. Because of this, individuals are asked to stop and divest of personal belongings, which inevitably creates delays and long lines. Further, when guards repeatedly find that the detectors’ alarms are due to those everyday items and not weapons, they become desensitized and inadvertently less effective in the screening process.

Despite this being the norm for passenger screening, this process cannot keep up with the demands of employee screening.  

Revamping the Employee Screening Process

With these significant limitations and challenges in mind, consider looking to replace antiquated screening solutions with more advanced technologies that leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI), and utilize advanced scanners, or even biometric capabilities.

If you do choose to onboard new technologies, ensure they meet the following capabilities to best protect against insider threats and improve the employee screening process:

  • Speed 

    Because airport shift changes can include up to thousands of employees at once, it’s important that your next screening solution quickly and efficiently move individuals through without sacrificing security.

    To do this, look for screening solutions that don’t require individuals to pause, pose, or divest of personal items. Technology that allows individuals to walk through with ease will best prevent bottlenecks, and ensure employees get to their stations on time.
  • Accuracy 

    Today’s threats extend far beyond the limits of metal, with bombs and other non-metallic weapons increasing in popularity every day.

    To ensure modern threats do not go unnoticed, your next screening solution should be able to identify several types of weapons, as well as differentiate between a gun, toy, or cell phone. With advanced intelligent detection capabilities, security guards are better-informed of potential threats and can take quicker and more precise action to deter an attack to stay “left of bang.”
  • Flexibility

    Implementing a rigid and predictable screening process can unfortunately create opportunities for people to use it against the venue that’s trying to stay protected.

    The ability to deploy screening solutions anywhere at any time creates an element of surprise and significantly limits the insider threat. Airports should look for flexible solutions that are self-contained and easy to move so that security checkpoints can be deployed on a whim. 

We can expect to see the insider threat problem proliferate across U.S. airports and beyond. To get ahead of this growing problem, consider reevaluating your employee screening process, educating yourself on the problem and identifying innovative solutions to address the ever-growing insider threat. An added benefit? Creating a no-hassle screening process for your employees can significantly impact job satisfaction and ultimately help with retaining employees.