Gun Detection Technology

Gun vs CellPhone

Security professionals are always looking for ways to prevent crime and attacks from happening, particularly mass shootings.  Since 9/11, we have endured terrorist attacks and active shooter attacks (similar insofar as the perpetrator is prepared to sacrifice their life).  Regardless of the motivation behind a shooting, be it ideology or mental illness, both pose a challenging security problem. The casualty numbers are higher than ever.  The industry has been pushed hard to find for a solution. For many people, the easiest path involves technological solutions that one can buy off-the-shelf and install.

In the world of weapon detection technology, there are two basic categories offered. The first focuses on detecting concealed weapons on a potential attacker.  We are all familiar with this having gone through metal and millimeter wave detection gates at airports and at entrances to many government buildings. In this case, the technology detects means only and not intention. But if we are able to find a concealed weapon, at least we have time to do something about it. 

Some companies are combining radar imaging technology with Artificial Intelligence and deep learning to increase this detection accuracy. Radar detects objects using radio waves; radar sensors are resistant to wind, rain, snow and less affected by temperature fluctuation. Depending on sensor frequency, radar can detect a range of materials to include metal, water in quantity, glass, wood or other organic materials. Since radar bounces differently off skin versus metallic objects, it can detect a gun or gun-like object on a person’s body or even belongings, while concealed.

The second category of weapon detection technology tries to detect a firearm held in a person’s hand using CCTV technology and video analytics. The assumption is that active shooters pull out a concealed weapon before they begin an attack. If the shooter exposes the gun seconds or minutes before shooting, it could be helpful although this kind of detection is unlikely to prevent an attack. Still, the attacker could be identified while still in a parking lot or a lobby.  An alert could be sent to an on-site officer to come running. Even seconds can potentially save some lives.

The person being screened has to be close enough to the camera for the system to be able to make a distinction between a cell phone and a gun. At a distance, that would be a challenge; at a bottleneck entrance, easier. Liberty Defense is one company that has been testing this type of technology in large public arenas such as the Allianz Arena Munich.  As of this writing, we could not find good data on those test results and are curious as to the outcome. 

It’s important to note that technology is looking for the means of an attack, not the intention behind it.  But if we are looking for a gun in someone’s hand, that represents intention plus means.  In this case, once detected, having human resources ready to engage is critical. 

The addition of artificial intelligence means the detection system is constantly learning and improving. Over time, perhaps the system can be trained to distinguish more clearly between different kinds of weapons, both pistols and rifles. It might go so far as to make a distinction in the adversary, like between an adult and a child. The latter with a toy gun in hand exiting Toys r Us will be cleared by the system as non-threatening. Although today the technology is immature, one wonders where we will be in twenty years and if we will have advanced to a stage where humans do not need to be part of the equation?

But for now, the security solution needs to be holistic and it needs to include people.

Security professionals understand that security is about Detection, Determination, Deterrence and Deployment.  No one solution provides all four; technology can only detect. For deterrence, we create contingencies that disrupt an adversary’s plan. This could include K-9s and deployment of undercover agents, to name a few countermeasures.

We also need to make sure we have security policies, processes and awareness for identifying insiders with hostile intent who could potentially become active shooters. Finally, to be effective, Security officers need solid training and procedures for detection of suspicion, determination of threat and the ability to deploy efficiently. The officer must know how to proactively assess a situation, use security questioning and if all fails - be prepared to act decisively and aggressively to eliminate the threat.

Do you know of active shooter technologies that can fit into this comprehensive approach to threat mitigation? Have you had or have you heard of others who have successfully (with supporting data) deployed such technology? Our readers would love to hear about it.

The following video goes into some detail about the different categories of detection, and what it takes to teach an AI system what to look for and how to deal with false positives:


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