Today’s “Eyes and Ears”
Technology keeps government and military facilities safer than ever
- By John Merlino
- Nov 29, 2021
Action movies like White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Like all action movies, they have a high degree of entertainment value, but what sets them apart is the setting. These movies depict attacks on the White House and other government buildings, something that has long been unthinkable for American audiences. Unfortunately, the unprecedented breach of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 has dramatically changed that perception.
The assault on the capitol underscores the critical importance of securing government buildings. The events of Jan. 6 will not soon be forgotten, and they serve as a sobering reminder of the vigilance necessary to address this very real threat. Fortunately, advanced audio and video solutions today have put cutting-edge “eyes and ears” technology in the hands of security teams, ensuring that government and military facilities are prepared to quickly and effectively deal with incidents ranging from employee misconduct to active shooter situations.
Understanding the Threat Landscape
How security technology deployment tends to depend on the industry and specific facility in question. Hospitals might use surveillance cameras and access control stations to monitor patient status and secure vulnerable areas like maternity or infectious disease wards. Schools might use access control to secure the premises, with facial recognition and two-way intercoms to facilitate streamlined access for authorized staff. Retail stores might focus on loss prevention and traffic analysis, while casinos focus on employee compliance. Depending on the industry, video and audio solutions are versatile in terms of deployment.
This poses an interesting challenge for government and military facilities, which must be prepared for all eventualities. While the Jan. 6 riot was a high-profile example of the type of threats that government facilities must be prepared to face, the truth is that they must also be prepared for the more common, everyday security threats as well. Like schools, government facilities must deal with the threat of violent incidents. Like hospitals, military facilities must be prepared to safeguard dangerous materials and protect their employees from harm. Like retail stores, both must be prepared to prevent their assets (and in the government’s case, their secrets) from falling into the wrong hands.
This need for a comprehensive and seemingly all-encompassing approach to security means that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for government and military facilities, but the beauty of today’s security technology often lies in its adaptability. In many cases, the same technology is customized to secure hospitals, schools and other facilities to fit the specific needs of the government and military.
Modern Video Solutions Have Changed the Face of Surveillance
Today’s IP camera solutions have revolutionized video surveillance. In the past, the primary use of surveillance cameras was to record incidents so the tape could be reviewed after the fact. While this might help law enforcement identify a perpetrator, in most cases, the damage had been done.
Unfortunately, even with large numbers of cameras deployed, human limitations still came into play. No matter how diligent or observant, an employee tasked with watching dozens of security feeds on a bank of wall monitors will not notice everything.
The advent of advanced analytics has changed that. When it comes to securing a government or military building, responding to an incident after the fact is no longer enough. Today, IP cameras can be equipped with analytics tools that can detect potential security events in real-time, while also sending an alert to the appropriate party. This has the potential to decrease response time dramatically—or even bring security staff to the scene before there is any damage.
Constituting a “security event” can be strictly defined. It might mean the presence of an intruder after working hours, when no one should be present in the building. It might mean that aggressive behavior has been detected, and a fight is taking place. It could even simply mean a group of people hanging around the entrance to a secure facility, or an employee or visitor loitering near an emergency exit. Whatever the case, today’s cameras can be programmed to recognize these events and raise the necessary alerts immediately.
It is important to note that today’s cameras can detect far beyond the visual spectrum. Thermal cameras capable of detecting a heat signature or radar detectors capable of detecting movement are also valuable tools. They can be particularly useful on rooftops or in sensitive areas where people have no business being present.
Audio Provides the Perfect Complement to Video
Even with the most advanced video solutions, it is not always easy to see exactly what is happening on the ground. Fortunately, advanced audio analytics are rapidly evolving and providing the additional context needed to help security teams see the complete picture. Today, AI-based audio and acoustic applications are able to deploy analytics on the edge, integrated with both cameras and other, third-party analytics solutions.
Audio solutions can provide a number of different benefits, including specific sound detection. Proper training will aid in detecting gunshots or glass breakage, or even just human voices. This can then generate an alert that a potential security incident may be occurring, even in a completely darkened room. These analytics can be trained to listen for things like aggressive voices—which usually precede a violent incident—potentially allowing security to intervene before the incident can escalate beyond a verbal altercation, or, conversely, investigating the situation and determining that it may be a “non-event”.
Context is key. Just as modern video solutions can be trained to tell the difference between a human intruder and a curious deer, audio solutions can be trained to differentiate between actual aggression and false aggression. This is more important than it might sound—after all, consider the number of raised and aggressive voices likely to be present at a military base or academy. The combination of audio and video can provide a more complete picture and help dictate an appropriate response or non-response.
The ability to fine-tune the system and avoid false alarms is valuable, as is the ability to catalogue events—even if the system identifies them as false alarms, which can help the system be better attuned to what constitutes ambient noise so it can be filtered out. This level of fine-tuning can go even further: military staff could potentially train the sensor to recognize the sound of different calibers of weapon. The technology might allow the audio solution to identify an unrecognized weapon. In the event of a live fire incident, it can also help direct responders in real time, handing off the video between cameras as the shooter moves. Applications like these have the potential to save many lives.
Prioritizing Ease of Integration
There are more solutions than ever on the market and the ability to mix and match the appropriate hardware and software for a given situation is essential. For this reason, the security industry has increasingly shifted toward open-architecture solutions, prioritizing ease of integration over proprietary technology. For consumers, this has obvious benefits. Rather than becoming locked into a single manufacturer or developer’s product line, they can choose both the hardware and software that works for them.
For government and military users seeking to use this technology in a wide range of applications that added degree of flexibility is particularly welcome. In secure areas, integrating video surveillance and access control technology might be a high priority.
In others, such as operational environments, training audio sensors to identify when machinery or other systems are running optimally or in need of repair might be useful or even mission critical. Regardless of how the technology is used, open-architecture solutions provide users with a wider range of options to choose from, allowing them to both customize their solution and scale it as needed.
Ensuring a More Secure Future
While Gerard Butler probably won’t have to spring into action to defend the president anytime soon, the events of Jan. 6—as well as last year’s “summer of discontent”—clearly showed that securing government buildings remains a priority. The capitol riot and images of other cities burning left many understandably rattled, but todays advanced audio and video solutions may help to ensure that similar incidents can potentially mitigate, and loss of life and damage to property reduced considerably.
Integrating audio and video can provide security teams with more information than ever, not only helping them respond to incidents appropriately, but in many cases stopping dangerous situations before they can escalate. Today’s solutions have helped security teams become proactive rather than reactive, and when it comes to securing government and military facilities, that shift has become an operational imperative.
This article originally appeared in the November / December 2021 issue of Security Today.