Gunshot Detection: How to Introduce the Technology to Your Customers
Breakthroughs in sensors, reliability and false triggering immunity have made gunshot detection a compelling offering for integrators. Gain insights on adding it to your portfolio, as well as the latest on gun detection.
Although the pandemic may have put building security and workplace violence concerns on the back burner, as companies bring employees back into the office many HR and corporate security professionals are quietly bracing themselves for an increase in workplace incidents.
In a recent survey by Ontic, 88% of respondents anticipated a dramatic increase in physical threat activity in 2022. When comparing the first four months of 2022 to 2021, while mass shooting deaths are down slightly, according to the Gun Violence Archive injuries from mass shootings are up by almost 4%.
For security dealers and integrators that listen closely to customer concerns, 2022 may be the year to build reputation and revenue by introducing clients to active shooter or gunshot detection products.
Need for Gunshot Detection
Law enforcement is trained to go to the last reported location of an assailant or, in the case of gun violence, the active shooter. By now most security professionals are familiar with outdoor, citywide solutions, but indoor gunshot detection is still an ambiguous concept for both the industry and end-user customers.
Simply stated, the value add of an indoor gunshot detection system is that security and law enforcement will automatically receive real-time, accurate gun violence location and tracking data during a period of intense confusion and panic.
Clearing a building room by room is one of the most dangerous activities a law enforcement officer can do. Giving first responders an accurate position will not only help them diff use the situation faster but allow EMT and other assets to be brought into the warm zone more expediently.
By removing the human in the decision-making loop, gunshot detection systems reduce response times, decrease the possibility of human-generated false alerts, and deliver clarity during times of extreme stress. Gunshot detection starts with the sensor.
Best-in-class gunshot detection sensor offerings will provide clients with the highest level of detection accuracy — preferably tested by independent third parties. It is difficult for customers to conceptualize the true financial and psychological cost of a false alert until they experience one at their business or school.
From a financial perspective, it’s easy to calculate the cost of shutting down a factory production line for three or four hours — but what about a hospital or a high school? One study showed that canceling normal hospital services (inpatient admissions, elective surgeries, ER visits, etc.) for just one day was more than $970,000.
Attempting to save money by choosing an inferior sensor can create angry customers who, at a minimum, may suddenly find themselves facing reputational, employee or public relations issues. But sensors are just one part of the overall solution.
Industry-leading gunshot detection systems must not only provide a standalone means to communicate and display the sensor’s data, but they should also seamlessly integrate this information with the client’s other security technologies.
Given the dizzying number of VMS, access control and mass communications solutions on the market, a dealer may be hesitant to add gunshot detection as it may be seen as introducing another level of complexity into an already difficult sales effort.
Choosing a gunshot detection vendor with proven performance and certified integrations reduces this risk and allows the dealer to focus more on working with the customer to develop and deliver what they really need: a fully autonomous, preprogrammed response to a gun violence event.
Demonstrate Your Differentiators
Customers may engage with dealers based on perceptions of trust and competency, but these are just the basics. Customers also want to know that, when needed, their dealer is a trusted partner that can look over the horizon and see what security solutions will be required in the immediate future.
The trend of states mandating “Alyssa’s Law” types of emergency messaging solutions for schools is a perfect example of this. Gunshot detection, when added to a proposal or RFI for video analytics or intelligent access control, signals to clients that a dealer is not only thinking ahead, but that they have invested internally to ensure that they are farther out on the cutting edge than their competitors.
While market growth in all areas of gunshot detection (indoor, outdoor, military, etc.) is forecasted to be strong — with some analysts forecasting an 8% CAGR until 2026 — the market demand for indoor solutions is not as readily understood.
One of the reasons for this is that gunshot detection may still be considered niche, and therefore expensive, by both the potential customer and the dealer. Another reason is that while customers are obviously purchasing these systems, they rarely let the public know that they are installed.
Some fear that by publicizing gunshot detection’s use, they are openly admitting that “it could happen here.” The solution to lessening this stigma starts with manufacturers working closely with dealers to win approval for case studies. Dealers will win more business by encouraging existing customers to engage in case studies and provide peer-to-peer references.
In most cases, the manufacturer can help the dealer develop this relationship and reduce any concerns that the customer might have regarding how the information is being disclosed.
For example, Shooter Detection Systems’ (SDS) sales and marketing teams continuously evaluate feedback from customers and develop communications that speak directly to a specific vertical. Secondly, dealers should take full advantage of the marketing and communications resources offered by manufacturers.
Dealers should ask if they offer services that can help develop tailored marketing content and if there is a strong national sales team in place who can provide impactful presentations and field sales support.
In addition, dealers will want to find out if their information is backed by certifications, third-party testing and validation of the product. These types of resources will have a huge impact when beginning the active shooter discussion with prospects or when adding recommendations to RFIs.
More Recurring Revenue
One forgotten aspect of gunshot detection systems is that they provide the dealer with another recurring revenue stream. Just like fire alarm systems, gunshot detection systems should be tested at least once a year.
Reputable manufacturers will have sensors that report malfunctions or tampering immediately to their monitoring systems, but an annual testing or maintenance contract should be part of every dealer’s sales agreement.
Dealers that offer SDS’ Guardian Indoor Active Shooter Detection System have an easy-to-use handheld unit that tests each sensor without disrupting normal business operations. In this way, dealers have another opportunity to check in with the customer, build confidence in existing systems, and generate a natural opening for discussing new products or services.
One of SDS’ large high school customers recently commented that these annual tests are not only welcome by the technology staff but provide a valuable reminder to review active shooter procedures for new team members who may not be familiar with the systems.
Carrying a gunshot detection system also allows the dealer to start a security assessment discussion from a different angle. For example, did the client have a security audit performed recently? If so, what were the audit recommendations for an active shooter? Simple questions like these open the door for a holistic discussion to addressing multiple security threats — and showcase the dealer’s advanced service offerings.
How to Get Started
Just as dealers should vet any security product, service providers will want to take a little time to dig into the technical approach taken by the manufacturer to address the problem. As mentioned, quality gunshot detectors should have third-party testing results available to demonstrate that the sensors detect gunfire under a wide range of conditions and return the lowest possible false alert rate.
Certifications from federal agencies like DHS’ SAFETY Act program are also a strong signal of product excellence and the manufacturer’s commitment to be a leader in the industry.
To obtain a “red seal” of SAFETY Act approval (a Certified product, as opposed to Designated, or a Developmental Testing and Designation/DT&E) a manufacturer must be able to produce not only test data, but at least three verifiable customer references with installations dating back two years or more.
When looking at the landscape of gunshot detection providers one will find that many have come to market and vanished, and many are new. Dealers should perform rigorous due diligence on both the company’s standing in the industry and the core technology in use.
For example, does the sensor incorporate acoustics with additional technology to help reduce false alerts? If not, are there environments where the technology will not work well or is it excluding any types of ammunition from detection? SDS’ solution, for example, relies on both acoustic and infrared signals to filter out detections from other loud, nonballistic noises in the environment and is specified to detect as low as a .22 caliber.
Also, working with a manufacturer that has a history of supporting a wide range of industry verticals — enterprise, federal and education for example — ensures that the support team behind the product can successfully guide re-sellers through each RFP and help them win the contract.
Finally, manufacturers that support a large number of certified integrations with leading VMS, mass notification and access control systems can give important feedback on past projects and help build confidence with end users.
There is valuable information locked away in the minds of the sales engineers of leading manufacturers and they should be available to help dealers design a cost-effective solution and reduce potential project headaches. Some dealers might be concerned that gunshot detection solutions are only for “high-end” clients and may not be economically viable for smaller customers.
Manufacturers are aware of this, and dealers should not hesitate to ask — once the project’s scope has been established — if there are discounts or funding programs available to support clients such as schools and nonprofits.
Between federal or state funding programs and the manufacturer’s support in delivering sensor coverage only where they are truly needed, the cost for the additional security layer, and ensuring that law enforcement responds as quickly and efficiently as possible, can be very reasonable.
What About Gun Detection?
Security professionals have long employed the strategy of layered technologies as a means of protecting assets and mitigating threats.
Focusing on the first two of the common “5 Ds” framework of Deter, Detect, Deny, Delay and Defend, facility security can potentially deter a person from entering a facility with a weapon or other banned object by having a strict policy against these items, then having staff detect by doing bag checks, using metal detecting wands and having physical pocket emptying practices.
However, these practices, when applied in a public venue setting for example, can also deter visitors that don’t want to wait in lines or subject themselves and their property to searches. Applying this same concept specifically to the problem of active shooter preparedness and response, it makes sense to leverage other approaches to detect threats at the door.
Unlike older metal detectors or X-ray machines, a few companies now provide millimeter-band, multisensor scanners (passive or active and most with some type of AI) to detect concealed weapons as people enter an enclosed space.
The technology builds an “image” of the weapon based on the collection of (passive) or scanning of (active) individuals passing through sensor columns. Advantages include higher pass-through rates and an improved ability to ignore smaller, everyday objects.
While an excellent approach for stadiums and airports, attacks from employees or insiders are still possible as they may know where the systems are not deployed or when they may be inactive.
It can be cost-prohibitive to deploy these systems at every entry, so the key to success is having a robust screening policy that includes a zero tolerance for nonscreening of employees and trusted vendors who have access to additional entry points.
There are companies offering software incorporated into an existing VMS to recognize objects or behaviors (usually applying AI or machine learning to improve the object recognition algorithm) as a means of weapons detection.
A newcomer to the security scene, this technology boasts a lower cost as a selling factor; however, it is important to understand that very high-quality IP cameras are needed — which the customer may not have — and they must be carefully placed with a high amount of coverage in order to be effective.
These are still prone to a high false alert rate and typically a human being is required to validate the image captured by the system. Some systems offer a companion monitoring service to help verify detections, which also means that data must leave the customer facility to be analyzed.
Putting It All Together
If we can’t deter, we can deploy multiple layers to detect, which then help security teams physically deny, delay and defend. By deploying a layered approach that includes an electronic means of screening for weapons, combined with a gunshot detection system to mitigate the insider threat and capture the bad actors that find a way through, dealers can help give customers a fighting chance at mitigating the risk of an active shooter attack.
Rich Onofrio is Managing Director for Shooter Detection Systems.
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