I believe our Founding Fathers knew that the American experiment would be sorely pressed, sorely challenged over time. This foresight exercises our constitutional system of government and our civic leadership.
Recently, our society has been vexed by attacks on our core principles. As I see it, civil discourse and freedom of speech are under siege by weaponized, manipulated social media platforms, challenging the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. An additional area is the growing avalanche of mass shootings by assault weapons that taxes the Madisonian-conceived Second Amendment and the valid rights of gun owners.
In both cases, technology plays a role in creating the challenge — from the lack of safeguards on hate speech and deceit on social media platforms to the internet-fueled market for modifying weapons into war machines. We have spent the past year constantly digging into the technical underpinnings of the problems of social media due to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. In my opinion, there has not been enough time spent on how technology can respond to mass shootings and the threats inside public venues.
I believe the active shooter problem is one of the scariest and most intractable facets of public life. While mass killings represent but a fraction of total gun deaths, they tear apart the fabric of our open society — transforming entertainment venues, airports, houses of worship, office buildings and schools into potentially instant war zones.
Why haven’t new methods, new technologies been driven to the forefront of protecting society and our “soft targets”?
In 1925, Gerhard Fischer was granted the first patent for a portable metal detector, improving on innovation that Gustave Pierre Trouvé began in 1874 and that Alexander Graham Bell worked on in the 1880s. For the most part, variants of metal detector technology have been the primary scanning security for venues and transit points worldwide for decades. Imagine driving a car from the 1970s (or one from the 1920s).
What metal detectors provide is a robust ability to find guns and knives at checkpoints (airports, government buildings, etc.) by comprehensively scanning every piece of metal, no matter how small or non-threatening. Anyone who goes to an NFL game knows it can take 20 minutes or longer to get into a stadium before kickoff. And we have to go back through the detector if we forget to take our keys out, requiring us to empty our pockets into frequently dirty bins and allow a stranger to run a scanning wand across our bodies before we can pass.
We agree to this social contract in order to protect our safety inside of venues, and we put up with the time requirements. If there is no alternative, it is the only answer.
It’s time to leverage technology for advancing how we approach public safety.
The time to revisit this situation is at hand. There is a range of proven new physical safety technology capabilities from companies such as Evolv Technology (a company for which I serve on the board of directors), security video analytics from companies such as IBM and new building access control from companies such as Johnson Controls. These innovative technologies can help reestablish the balance between security and freedom of movement, keeping schools, houses of worship, entertainment and shopping venues welcoming and safe.
New scanning technologies, for instance, are built on radar instead of metal detection. They can find the worst threats — including guns and bombs — and distinguish an iPhone from a baby Glock with high accuracy. This clarity is able to not only makes us safer but also restore personal privacy and dignity back to security scanning checkpoints. The systems are more intelligent and can be connected to building systems, police and others for more rapid response in the case of an incident.
Furthermore, hundreds or thousands of people can rapidly and securely enter one of these checkpoints in an hour, versus the small fraction that passes through a metal detector. We can walk normally through open gateways without emptying our pockets or bags and expect the same level of security.
So, why haven’t more venues implemented these new technologies? The answer, simply, is cost and mindset. New scanning technologies are more expensive than low-cost, half-century-old metal detector technologies. Most venue owners or managers either do not know these new technologies exist or may not see or fully understand the time value of shifting the inconvenience from their patrons (who pay in time) to themselves (who can offer a more efficient and welcoming experience).
The adoption of physical security technology requires bidirectional strategic thinking to reach decision-makers.
Venue managers and owners care deeply about patron experience but often have an under-evolved position on the investments and technology around the first experience people have when entering their facilities. As a personal security technology company, you have one time to make a first impression.
The emphasis should be placed on addressing the business and customer experience drivers, not only the technological aspects. This will also require new kinds of partnerships and business models — physical-security-as-a-service — to make these new technologies easier to consume and to pay for.
If we continue on the current path of limited and inconvenient security scanning, clinging to the “punch card” era of physical security technology and practices, how can we expect change? The well-known saying from the 1800s, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, rings true: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”