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Cities are adding infrastructure that is more intelligent

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 as possible.

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.

Widespread Adoption

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 the future.

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 and efficiency.

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 to come.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Security Today.

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