By Dave Fraser
Mass shootings are on the rise and facilities are not only prime targets, but often involve the most casualties. In fact, if you look at the FBI’s list of active shooter incidents in 2021, those with the highest number of casualties were at a FedEx ground operations center and a Kroger grocery store. With 2022 already on track to continue this alarming trend, it’s time for facilities in every industry to re-evaluate how they are keeping their employees and patrons safe.
The Truth About Cameras: They Aren’t Smart
Most of today’s surveillance cameras are like our old flip phones—they are only designed to do one thing. While older phones were used just for making calls, most current surveillance cameras are used to simply record video. Both are good at doing their one job, but as smart phones have proven, they both have the power to do much more. In fact, in the case of a typical surveillance camera, what is done with that video may determine whether there is a successful outcome during an active shooter incident. But unfortunately, this is what generally happens to video today:
- It’s not being watched. According to IPVM, less than 1% of all surveillance video is watched live. Given that most active shooter incidents are over within five minutes, this approach has no value during an immediate crisis.
- It’s being watched by humans. While people like knowing someone is watching their video 24/7, the reality is that human monitoring is prone to significant error. In fact, research has shown that 45% of activity is missed after only 12 minutes of continuous video monitoring and 95% of activity can be overlooked by humans after just 22 minutes.
Artificial Intelligence Makes Cameras Smart
Just like the emergence of smart phones, cameras are becoming more useful than ever before, providing a new level of security that can make a significant difference in active shooter incidents. Best of all, you don’t have to buy new cameras to make them smarter. As long as you have an IP-based camera, you can add artificial intelligence software and turn your surveillance system into a 24/7 monitoring service that can identify a gun threat in fractions of a second and then send an alert for human verification. Once verified, that same system can set off a series of simultaneous actions such as:
- Emergency response plans and systems can be automatically activated to maximize every critical second.
- Detailed situational intelligence can be dispatched to police and onsite security teams throughout an incident for a rapid and much more effective response.
- Broadcast alerts and notifications can be sent to those impacted—from mass text, email, and voice to mobile safety apps, social media, PA announcements, and digital signage.
- Security and safety systems can be activated to lock doors, sound alarms, change lighting, highlight evacuation routes, and much more.
How AI Works in a Camera
AI gun detection software uses a multi-step process to identify active shooter gun threats, not simply guns. This involves three key steps:
- Assess. It first assesses frames of video to identify a body—a torso, arms, legs, etc. It’s not looking for people or trying to identify a person, just the shape of a body without reference to color, gender, or other identifying personal attributes.
- Detect. The AI then works as a gun detector, searching for a handgun or long gun in close proximity to the body. A wide range of handguns, shotguns, rifles, and military-style weapons are distinguished by the AI, while inert objects such as cell phones, hand-tools, common office objects, and more are identified to diminish possible false positives.
- Analyze. Multiple frames of video are analyzed in sequence to establish a coherent track on the threat, reducing spurious or false detections. Additionally, the relationship of the gun to the arm and hand of the body is analyzed to bring additional clarity to the situation and help determine, with a high level of confidence, if an actual gun detection is in fact an active shooter threat before an alert is shared for human verification.
The Next Step: Mass Communication
Once an active shooter has been verified, the speed and detail of the following actions and communications that need to happen will have a profound impact on whether lives are saved or lost. That is why it’s important that a communications plan is designed to work “before, during, and after” an incident.
Before an event happens, make sure you have the right technology in place, such as AI gun detection and a mass communication system, and a strong plan of action in the event of an emergency situation. Discuss, determine, and develop a specific plan that clearly outlines the who, what, when, and where of managing the situation. Having this in place up front will ensure the most robust and effective response if an active shooter is identified and verified in your facility. And it ensures that it will happen simultaneously with no confusion or delays.
During an event, real-time alerts such as images, location, and video can help first responders and security staff reduce their response time and increase the effectiveness of their reaction during the event. Key information that can be identified in real-time includes:
- How many shooters there are.
- What kind of weapons are in use.
- What the suspect looks like and how they are dressed.
- And most importantly, where the shooter is located at any given moment through video monitoring.
Also during this phase, actions can be taken such as automatically locking the doors, sending alerts to all people in the facility, and providing up-to-date information to run, hide, or exit safely through a specific door.
After the event is usually less urgent, but still quite helpful. For example, sometimes there are situations where it was verified that a gun was seen on campus, but it took investigators days to locate the corresponding video of the event. If a site had AI gun detection software installed, not only would an alert have been received by key personnel, but with integrations to Video Management Solutions, these sorts of events can also be flagged for easy retrieval at a later date. This information could lead security personnel directly to a potential shooter to investigate, and potentially thwart, a future event.
How Prepared is Your Facility?
No one can predict an active shooter incident, but we can—and must—be prepared to handle one and save lives in the process. If your facility is just recording video, or maybe even watching some of that video, it’s time to move into the 21st century. Adding intelligence to a surveillance system you already have invested in can save significant time and money, while also providing a strong layer of protection for everyone in your facility.
Fraser is the CEO of Omnilert. He has been building innovative software products and companies for more than 30 years, with a passion for developing and bringing to market new products and services which have a direct, positive impact on everyday life. At Omnilert, this manifests through the company’s mission to protect people who are at their most vulnerable during times of crisis, through fast, reliable communications and intelligence.