Cities are adding infrastructure that is more intelligent
- By Richard Brent
- May 01, 2016
Recent data shows that crime continues
to evolve. In some areas, overall crime
is down, yet there has been an alarming
increase in mass shootings and terrorism.
To counteract this recent shift
in crime, today’s cities are changing to meet the challenge.
Modern cities are adding infrastructure to be
more intelligent in how they fight crime, and thanks
to technological advances, they are creating the rise
of the “smart city.”
One key element of the “smart city” is that it must
deploy 21st century innovations to at least maintain a
high quality of life for its citizens and visitors. Smart
cities are putting technologies in place that enable a
number of their constituency’s desired outcomes,
with crime prevention and increased safety being at or
near the top of the list. Cities strive to attain “smart”
status; they want to give residents the confidence that
public safety resources are prepared to deal with most
any threat that may arise.
In the drive to make cities smarter and safer, audio
analytics have emerged as one of the best of several
security technologies that are now essential in protecting
the modern metropolis. Within the audio analytics
domain, gunshot detection has been a technology in
high demand due to its demonstrated ability in helping
to ensure that smart cities are as aware for safety
The key value of gunshot detection is its ability to
give security staff and/or police an early warning signal
during active shooter, high-risk situations. Within
moments of a gun discharging, the detection system
has identified the sound and initiated an immediate
notification to first responders. This nearly instantaneous
alert can reduce reaction time for security personnel
as well as improve response time, and lower
risk. In addition, the collection and analysis of gunshot
data is useful to police for future cases.
The Gunshot Detection System
A gunshot detection system is easy to configure and
operate. Typically, high-performance microphones are
installed on or in buildings, or along streets, across areas
known to experience a high incidence of gun crime.
The microphones are designed to constantly listen for
gunshots and other acoustic events. Intelligent software
then filters out false positives (noises that may be mistaken
for gunshots), such as backfiring cars or workers
hammering roads. As soon as the system determines
that a true gunshot has been detected, a notification is
quickly transmitted to the appropriate security or police
personnel. The software analyzes the sound at the
source and identifies the zone the shot was fired in. Just
seconds after shots are fired, the system provides officers
with the vital information, ultimately helping the
authorities catch suspects.
Some variations on this approach have been deployed
successfully as well. One leading technology
manufacturer’s gunshot detection system integrates
microphones, cameras and video management software.
This solution exhibits a superb detection range,
recognizing gun discharge up to 3,000 feet away in
quiet environments, and accurately analyzes gunshots
from a variety of weapons, including handguns, shotguns,
rifles, and automatic rifles.
Government leaders across the country have begun
to strategically invest in gunshot detection technology
for their cities and campuses. Tragically, schools
throughout the United States have repeatedly fallen
victim to devastating active shooter incidents. With
school districts intensely focused on student safety,
cities are more motivated than ever to invest funds to
achieve safer learning environments.
In 2015, a K-8 charter school in Illinois proactively
had their security equipment assessed by a security
integrator. The staff ultimately came to the conclusion
that the campus needed to improve its perimeter
security and increase protection of other vulnerable
exterior areas on the property. In response, the school
installed both a gunshot detector and an aggression
detector to mitigate the risk.
A California high school became the first to install
gunfire detection technology in 2015. The system in
place has the ability to alert police, the principal and
the superintendent with precise information on where
gunshots were fired.
In Ohio, an organization is piloting an active
shooter response system at a high school, with sensors
that work with other security technology. If a shooter
fires in one area, the sensors there would register the
shot, alert 911, and map the shooter’s movements.
However, these sensors not only inform police of the
shooter’s movements and location, but help to provide
the quickest, safest and most efficient response.
Additionally, the system can be tied into school cameras
to provide first responders with a video feed of
the shooter, and lock down the school, protecting students
and isolating the shooter.
In Massachusetts, Sen. Michael Rush filed Bill
S.333 in April 2015 which would require new schools
in the Massachusetts School Building Authority to install gunshot detection systems.
With school districts willing to do
whatever it takes to make things safer
for their students, the deployment of
gunshot detection technologies is a
trend that we’ll continue to see grow in
Addressing Potential Concerns
Sometimes challenges may arise when
deploying audio analytics solutions. In
the past, certain technology providers’
gunshot detection systems generated
too many “false alerts” that required
extra police effort to verify. Today,
manufacturers are refining their systems
and introducing solutions that
deliver minimal alerts. For example,
one company had its sound technicians
listen and document thousands of firearms
so as to build and continually update
its library of gunshot sounds.
This extensive collection of verified
firearms has greatly driven the system’s
analysis and identification accuracy.
This particular manufacturer’s gunshot
detection solution also automatically
adjusts to its given environment.
As such, if the product is installed on
a street corner where there is a lot of
ambient noise, a sound can only trigger
the detector if it reaches the appropriate
decibel level. This feature has also
increased the solution’s effectiveness
The unfounded legal concern for privacy
is another reason why some cities
still refrain from implementing gunshot
detection systems. However, the technology
is now sophisticated enough
to alleviate such fears. The beauty of
modern audio analytics technology
properly deployed is that it listens for
sound pattern, tone and frequency– not
speech. Users can rest assured that privacy
will be given full measure value.
Another factor that can delay the
installation of new gunshot detection
systems is the cost. One estimate
puts the average cost for all cities
at $169,400, with the largest buyer
paying $3.4 million, a substantial
amount, especially for smaller cities
facing budget constraints. However,
more gunshot detection players have
recently arrived on the security scene.
In particular, one provider is offering
the same detection technology, but at
a fraction of the cost. It is ultimately
up to the integrator to determine the
technology provider who has the best,
most cost-effective solution for its
unique end user application.
Smarter cities of all sizes are capitalizing
on new technologies and insights
to transform their security systems,
public safety operations, and the
quality of life experienced by residents.
Audio analytics, specifically gunshot
detection, has emerged as one of the
leading technologies in this smart city
revolution. Many police forces now
use gunshot detection systems to successfully
combat crime with increasing
efficiency and success rates. The use of
these systems by police forces in other
cities across the U.S. promises to revolutionize
crime-fighting efforts for years
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Security Today.