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A tablet displays security threats on college campus. New technologies can help prevent and respond to active shooter incidents at universities.

Photo illustration by iStock; Security Management

The Role of Technology in Training, Preventing, and Responding to Active Shooters

Active shooter scenarios and mass shootings have become an unfortunate, common occurrence in the United States. A recently released FBI report acknowledged that active shooter incidents increased more than 50 percent in just 2021 alone. The FBI identified 61 active shooter incidents—where one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area—in 2021. And, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have already been more than 320 mass shootings this year in the United States.

In general, the United States has seen an 18 percent increase in violence year after year since 2020, in schools, workplaces, places of worship, and more. As politicians continue to debate the implications of gun safety laws, it remains up to individual businesses and organizations to protect their employees, students, and patrons. The world is increasingly becoming more reliant on technology, and the security industry is no exception. Modern technological advancements play a critical role in creating a holistic approach to security, including the prevention of and response to active shooter scenarios.  

The first step of any smart security response starts with prevention. Once an event occurs, however, action and response times are critical to the safety of the public and their employees. The ability to act quickly and efficiently when an incident starts to develop directly impacts the number of casualties and the severity of the event.

Modern gunshot detection systems are key in this prevention, incorporating either acoustic feedback, acoustic signatures, or infrared technology, meaning that gunshots can be detected through sound or the flash from the weapon. Newer systems include multiple types of detection as a failsafe to prevent or significantly diminish false alarms. These systems can identify a gunshot instantly, and immediately send a notification to the security operations center (SOC), local guards, or other security personnel to coordinate additional preventative measures. Oftentimes, these detection systems can notify the authorities before anyone at the incident location has a chance.

Once the SOC, local guards, or other security personnel have been notified of an incident, technology can also initiate other response measures, including mass communication tools and smart building features that are installed on the premises.

Typically, a pre-established hierarchy is notified, with first responders traditionally being top priority. As part of this notification, the SOC, local guards, or other security personnel might also authorize an override to security systems, including any on-site security cameras, allowing first responders to access the situation in real time with accurate information and react with timely, proactive response measures. Simultaneously, a combination of text, email, automated phone calls, and a public announcement can be used to notify those within the building or building radius of the threat. Using multiple channels of communication ensures the largest reach and can enable more people to evacuate or take shelter quickly. In this case, an overlap or redundancy in communication systems is necessary and can be the difference when it comes to saving lives while containing and stopping the shooter. 

In-place mass communication is also a critical source of data collection. The two-way communication built into these response measures not only allows those within the targeted area to be notified but also allows those inside to communicate what they see with responders on the outside. People who are hiding or sheltering in place can provide critical insight to emergency response teams who could change the course of the rescue.

While modern technology provides a solid base for prevention and response, the ultimate goal should be to create a holistic approach to security that includes front-end training for active shooter scenarios. Overall, this training provides a valuable framework for identifying possible threats before they come to fruition and thereby eliminates the danger to the community completely.

Often referred to as workplace violence preparedness and response plans, these actionable steps provide a comprehensive approach to training, including a detailed assessment of any pain points or security deficiencies that should be addressed. Valuable data collected from both security technologies and a physical security presence provides a blueprint of early identification and behavioral warnings of individuals who could turn into an active shooter. Similarly, other data collected helps businesses develop a detailed policy procedure, including any necessary drills, that every employee should be briefed on should the situation arise.

By training personnel or employees on preventative measures, they can make effective, smart decisions in the moment that will keep people alive until first responders arrive, while also noticing and relaying essential data to those on the outside who might impact the overall response. In the event of an active shooter scenario, this training will help create time and distance, which could mean the difference between life and death for those involved.

When consulting experts about designing a security technology plan for any business, it is important to remember that no two businesses are the exact same and that an individualized approach is needed. Most often, the most effective plan requires a hybrid of technology and physical security presence for data collection, training, prevention, and response, but how those components work together is entirely dictated by the unique traits of the building(s) and people who use that space.

Technology can aid in the identification of suspicious behavior, pinpointing the threat location, tracking movement, and assisting in police response through software-aided smart video analytics. These efforts are complemented by physical security guards and trained personnel, who can take this collected data and analyze—sometimes in real time—and create actionable steps and procedures for people to follow. This holistic and personalized approach to security offers businesses the tools they need to effectively train, prevent, and respond to active shooter scenarios.

When developing an active shooter preparedness plan for a business, it is essential to consider the business’ footprint, extent of mass communication systems needed and implemented, and who it is targeting. Decision makers should also assess smart building and other technology capabilities that can be incorporated easily into existing security measures, how to control facility access points, guest and employee entrance processes, suspicious behavior assessment and containment, and how to best involve and communicate with first responders.

Robert Dodge, CEO, Prosegur Global Risk, has more than 25 years of experience in security, investigations, and consulting, and has worked on security and investigative projects in more than 90 countries around the world. Mike Dunn is CTO, Prosegur USA, working with all divisions of Prosegur to leverage technology to find innovative solutions for the company and its customers. Dunn oversees Prosegur's Mobile Surveillance Division, IoT, end user training, and research and development. Greg Kuhn is director of IoT, Prosegur USA, where he specializes in the intersection of digital and physical security elements to provide clients with comprehensive security solutions.

© Gregory A. Kuhn