Re-Envisioning a Technological System of Response to Mass Shooting Events

Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in mass shootings—from schools to workplaces to public spaces, and communal facilities such as houses of worship, community commons, park settings, and shopping centers. While media coverage of these incidents focuses on this increase, the shared storylines of these reports remain consistently focused on the location, timeline, casualties, and the perpetrator responsible. However, to mitigate the risk of future attacks, it’s important to also focus on the potential safety measures, protocols, and the many technologies that could help victims reach authorities or seek safety in these dire situations when they need it most.

It is vital to understand that safety protocols for an active threat differ by location and surrounding, and each requires measures specifically tailored to the situation at hand. The surrounding type in particular—such as outdoors or indoors, high-rise or office park—will dictate how law enforcement approaches the area, and how technology systems are designed and implemented.

While many public spaces and facilities have safety guidelines and protocols posted or available, these strategies need to be regularly refreshed to better represent modern threats and attack tactics. This is especially true for spaces featuring unique floorplans that require careful consideration of the environment to avoid creating significant barriers for systems integrators and emergency responders. With technologies including critical life and fire safety systems, individual and group safety can be enhanced, first responders’ intelligence is aided upon arrival to the scene, safety measures are increased, and this type of incident may be prevented from moving forward.

Case Studies At a Glance

When we think of such facilities that may be recognizable for this discussion, several events unfortunately come to mind from recent years, including the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.; Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas; Kroger in Collierville, Tenn.; and the Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio. A significant commonality amongst these examples is that each location is public with heavy traffic, making denial or difficulty of entry—one primary factor that a system integrator should be aware of—extremely challenging. Therefore, the additional two key factors, mitigation of extent and rapidity of response, are paramount.

Protection Within the Space

Emergency buttons in these facilities play a significant role in an integrated system, particularly in the inability to harden entry requirements. Unfortunately, these types of facilities drive a reactive response to an incident rather than a proactive one. While these spaces exhibit significant differences, they share the same drawbacks in that they are generally designed for accessibility and ease of movement, which is why it’s important to have a security strategy that collectively considers fire safety, life safety and security infrastructure to ensure the best possible protection.

With that understood, the primary goal in public spaces and communal facilities is to increase incident awareness with real-time notifications to occupants, driving immediate response and action by emergency personnel. Thanks to their speed and accuracy, real-time notifications have grown in popularity, with several use cases across nearly every vertical.

In public spaces and communal facilities, gunshot detection that is linked to automated audio messaging within the facility and automated dial-out processes can operate to provide instruction during the initial phases of an incident. From there, directed and manual announcements can then be made to inform occupants of “Run, Hide, Fight” responses. Additionally, an emergency button can allow manual initiation of emergency response procedures. Together, all of these provide a powerful emergency response system in an active shooter situation.

Integrations between multiple systems can be accomplished in conjunction with procedural and staff training efforts to minimize potential casualties in such an event. The physical construction of "safe rooms," ballistic glass, and designated shelter spaces also increases the likelihood of surviving a tragic event, only as far as supported staff training and development.

How Technology Can Help

Increased attack frequencies require increased safety protocols. As systems integrators, the focus in these instances should remain on utilizing the technology available—including fire alarms, comprehensive video surveillance, and shooter detection systems—to enhance safety measures, ultimately helping to deny opportunity and mitigate the magnitude of potential events.

Fire alarms, for instance, are universally available in public spaces and communal facilities and are primarily seen as the method of early warning of an incipient fire condition and notification of occupants. With a properly designed integration, inclusive of not only fire alarms but also mass notifications, intrusion detection, video surveillance, access control, and gunshot detection, integrators can bridge this gap to create a complete system of response. Protecting against a variety of incidents—from natural disasters and inclement weather to criminal activity and campus shootings, to other non-emergencies that require wide disbursement of information—this complete system of response can provide facilities with the relevant information for occupying personnel to make timely and critical decisions in the event of an emergency.

Some of the most important aspects of an emergency response are survey processes, speed of assistance, and specific proactive incident response measures using key technologies available. Considering the combination of these technologies and implementing integrated solutions to prevent active shooter situations from occurring in public spaces, in addition to ensuring emergency response plans are available to members of the community, is key to keeping these common areas safe.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2022 issue of Campus Security Today.

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