Shooter Detection Systems
The New Fire Alarm
Article courtesy of BOMA Insight Georgia, July 2018
Gunshot detection technology could become as commonplace as fire safety systems
Fire safety systems have come a long way since the first recognizable sprinkler system was installed in 1812. Brock Ryan, with Life Safety Solutions, states that with the exception of 9/11, the last time there was a high-rise fire with multiple fatalities was in October 2003. Fatalities from high-rise fires have decreased, in large part due to more comprehensive life safety systems, codes, standards, and training.
Conversely, our headlines are too often filled with the tragic news of incidents involving active shooter events with multiple fatalities. Sandy Hook; Aurora, Colo.; Pulse Nightclub in Orlando; the Las Vegas strip; and, most recently, the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Fla. All of these were horrific active shooter events that left many dead and wounded.
According to the FBl's website, from 2000 to 2016, there were 219 active shooter events in the United States. The US Department of Homeland Security defines the active shooter as, "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims." Ryan dubs the active shooter as the "21st-century threat and the workforce crisis of the modern era."
Building owners and managers need to have emergency preparedness plans in place with an active shooter segment as part of the comprehensive plan. Most active shooter plans rely heavily on humans. The Department of Homeland Security's Active Shooter: How to Respond educational booklet tells us to "Run, Hide or Fight.” Run if you can. If you cannot run, hide. If the shooter finds you, be prepared to fight. But who is alerting the authorities? How do we know where the shooter is? Are the authorities getting accurate information?
What if we used technology to assist building occupants and first responders in an active shooter event? What if that technology didn't rely on human input? Enter gunshot detection technology. Think of it as a smoke alarm for gunfire. Using acoustics or optics, the sensors detect gunfire. The software connects the sensors and immediately alerts law enforcement and building occupants.
Shooter Detection Systems’ Guardian Indoor Active Shooter Detection Systems is one such system, as is SENTRI, ShotSpotter, and Boomerang, just to name a few. This technology is used by airports, schools, hospitals and government buildings. The average person, especially indoors, does not immediately think of a gunshot when they hear the report of a gun. Valuable time is lost just determining if the loud bang was indeed a gunshot.
"[A gunshot detection system] provides the pieces of information that have been missing in all the active shooter stories we've seen on the news. Were those shots fired? Where were they coming from? Where can I go to get away safely?" said Angie Williams of Blackwater Technologies, an authorized Shooter Detection Systems’ dealer. “Gunshot detection technology alerts law enforcement, building occupants, and key stakeholders the second a shot is fired in a facility. The alerts can come in any number of ways: text message, an announcement over the PA, an alarm specific to an active shooter, even to your building security team’s handheld radios.”
A gunshot detection system works to automate emergency responses, just like building life safety systems. First responders are provided with much more accurate and detailed information, including a more precise location of the shooter, how many shots fired, images of the shooter, and the type of weapon used.
“According to the ALICE Training Institute, someone gets killed every 5 to 15 seconds during an active shooter attack, and many incidents only last around five to seven minutes,” said Williams. “Seconds mean the difference between life and death.” Most of us have heard the horrific stories of chaos and panic that ensues during an active shooter event. This technology, with the ability to distinguish between a car backfiring and a gunshot, provides accurate, real-time information to the first responders and building occupants. Building-specific floor plans are a part of the system, and in the event a shot is fired, the floor plans show the shooter’s location. Integrated security cameras can pick up images of the shooter. All of this information is immediately transmitted to authorities and building occupants. No human input required. The gunshot detection technology will not prevent an event, but it may help to mitigate the loss of life.
Just as we have floor warden training and fire drills as a part of comprehensive fire safety plans, gunshot detection technology should not be the only tool we rely on. “Gunshot detection technology is just one piece of the puzzle; the first piece is people, the second piece is a plan and the third piece is technology,” said Paul Merritt with Fortress Consulting. “But this technology does integrate with the mass notification system. And rapid notification is paramount.”
Law enforcement has increasingly been using this technology for the last decade, mostly in exterior applications. Fortune 500 companies are installing indoor systems in their locations, as their stakeholders are well aware of the negative impact an active shooter can have on their employees and public image. Schools are also a large part of the market share, as school boards are laser-focused on student safety. It appears that the gunshot detection technology will only expand its market share as it becomes more widely known and further evolves to fit specific location’s needs.
Even though the technology has obvious benefits, its existence and specific use cases seem unknown to many building personnel. While many find it intriguing, the potential cost raises some questions. Christian Connors of Shooter Detection Systems states, “Many of our clients install the system in their access points/reception areas at a cost of under $10,000. This does not include the cost to pull the CAT5 cable and commission the system.”
“The systems are scalable, and some dealers offer five-year lease-to-own plans,” Williams said. Ideally, facilities can start with a few sensors and add on as their budget permits. While the cost of a gunshot detection system is a consideration, the cost of defending a lawsuit may be far more expensive.
Civil suits are being filed based on the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). Under the “General Duty Clause” Section 5(a)(1) of OSHA, employers are required to provide their employees a place of employment that is, “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.” On Sept. 27, 2012 in Minneapolis, Minn., recently fired Andrew Engeldinger entered Accent Signage Systems, armed with a Glock 19 9mm handgun, and killed five people. Families of the victims sued Accent. The ruling in the civil case indicates that the court interpreted an active shooter event as a “recognizable hazard.” Employers can be fined for not providing training and minimizing the risks of active shooter events, and often civil cases follow.
In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, multiple lawsuits were filed stating the lack of “gunshot detection devices” as a part of the claim. The suits allege that MGM assisted the gunman in transporting his arsenal by giving him access to a service elevator not open to the public and that the Mandalay Bay failed to adequately monitor the hotel premises, discover his weapons, have gunshot detection devices in hotel rooms, or have adequate procedures to handle an active shooter situation.”
Currently, we do not have much in the way of codes and standards that cover active shooter events. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), for only the second time in history, is authorizing a provisional standard, NFPA 3000, which will establish standards for preparedness and response to active shooter and/or hostile events. Bills are being introduced to expand training for law enforcement and schools. It’s not hard to imagine that further bills, standards, and codes are going to be implemented as we try to reduce and mitigate active shooter events. Gunshot detection technology could become as commonplace as fire safety systems.
*21st Century Threats statistics from Wikipedia List of Mass Shootings in the United States.
This article appeared in BOMA Insight Georgia, July 2018.
By Traci Porto, RPA, The Simpson Organization
Traci Porto is a Property Manager with The Simpson Organization. She has been in property management since 2012. Traci holds a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications from the University of Florida and completed her RPA designation in 2016.