Could technology protect synagogues, soft targets from mass shootings?

Increasing attention is being paid to technological solutions that could prevent or limit devastation wrought by mass shootings.

A San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy secures the scene of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019. (photo credit: JOHN GASTALDO/REUTERS)
A San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy secures the scene of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, north of San Diego, California, U.S. April 27, 2019.
Just like most mass shootings, Saturday’s deadly attack on the Chabad of Poway in San Diego was over within a matter of minutes.
According to the US Department of Homeland Security, active shooter situations are usually over within 10 to 15 minutes, developing quickly and often costing lives before law enforcement arrives on the scene.
There have been 97 mass shootings – commonly defined as four or more individuals shot at one location, at roughly the same time – in the United States since the start of the year.
As political and public debates regarding increased gun control after such events repeatedly prove unfruitful, increasing attention is being paid to technological solutions that could prevent or limit devastation wrought by mass shootings.
Private companies leading the push for safety solutions include Toronto-based Patriot One Technologies, which has commercialized McMaster University-developed cognitive microwave radar technology to detect concealed weapons.
Anticipating to roll out their product in the coming months, Patriot One’s PATSCAN threat detection systems combine artificial intelligence with video surveillance and active monitoring to covertly identify weapons and suspicious behavior, and to alert authorities of an active threat.
The Toronto Stock Exchange-listed company uses a low-power impulse radar system for the detection of on-body concealed weapons, identifying concealed irregular object mass based on a database of known weapon profiles, including guns, rifles and explosive devices.
Patriot One has also developed a device to detect, identify and track traces of explosives, chemical warfare agents and volatile organics. The company’s PATSCAN STS technology uses tunable electronic signals to detect traces of airborne chemicals – such as chloroform and nitrate ester – with parts-per-trillion sensitivity, and alert emergency response teams.
Athena Security – headquartered in Austin, Texas – utilizes artificial intelligence and computer vision to identify threats.
Rather than relying on security staff monitoring video feeds, Athena’s system works with existing surveillance cameras and recognizes dangerous objects and dangerous motions, including an individual holding or pulling out a gun or knife, or people fighting.
The system instantly alerts relevant authorities, including the police and building management, enabling fast response times, and notifies the shooter that he has been identified.
Unlike current alarm systems which are prone to false alarms, Athena promises that its system can recognize guns within a two-second window, with 99% accuracy.
OFFERING SAFETY solutions for schools, the Fredericksburg, Virginia-based company NetTalon combines alarm notifications, sources of actionable intelligence and hardened-door systems to create a “safe haven” for students, teachers and staff.
All teachers and staff are equipped with wireless key fobs which can be activated in the case of an emergency, immediately alerting a remote Emergency Response Station with details regarding the precise location of the incident.
The installation of motion detectors, video cameras and signaling stations enable monitoring personnel to prioritize their approach, and hardened doors – designed to impede a shooter’s entry into the classroom – can be electronically locked and opened by law enforcement personnel.
Countermeasures slowing the shooter’s movement through the school can also be installed, with “hot zones” deployed in school hallways. Each “hot zone” consists of smoke canisters, containing non-toxic smoke, which can obscure the shooter’s vision.
Motivated by the June 2016 mass shooting at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market and the murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando days later, Israeli citizen Yoni Sherizen founded Tel Aviv-based start-up Gabriel.
The company’s hi-tech crisis platform aims to provide a smart, affordable and easy-to-use solution for mass shootings aimed at so-called soft targets and communal spaces, including in schools, community centers, synagogues and churches.
Backed by an advisory board including former Mossad deputy director Ram Ben-Barak and former Israel Police chief Yohanan Danino, the company’s crisis platform integrates three components.
First, a physical device placed on the wall of the building serves as both a panic button to alert first responders, police and building occupants, and also as a video and audio communication hub should other communication services fail.
Second, a smartphone application enables users to declare an emergency, alert others in the vicinity and continue to share critical, real-time information from the scene. Smartphones have emerged as key communication and intelligence points for emergency response teams.
Finally, the company has developed a command and control dashboard that enables real-time crisis management. Available both as a web and smartphone application, the dashboard provides direct video and audio feeds from the location and a dynamic site map of the building.
The system costs approximately $20-30,000 to fully outfit a site, depending on the building’s characteristics, far more modest than most military- or government-grade emergency platforms that can exceed $200,000.
Last year, one Jewish community in the Midwestern United States ordered the system to install in 25 locations, including synagogues, Jewish schools and community centers. Gabriel will roll out the system for additional customers in New Jersey and Florida in the coming months.
One final technology that has so far struggled to reach the market, is the development of “smart guns,” using biometric technology to prevent firearms being used by anybody but their owners.
One developer includes Kai Kloepfer, who first developed such a mechanism as a 15-year-old for a high school science fair project in 2012. He has since established Biofire Technologies, a company seeking to prevent gun violence caused by unsecured firearms.
Such technology was backed by then-president Barack Obama in April 2016, writing on Facebook, “As long as we’ve got the technology to prevent a criminal from stealing and using your smartphone, then we should be able to prevent the wrong person from pulling a trigger on a gun.”
Biofire’s Smart Gun looks almost identical to any other firearm, but it includes an advanced fingerprint sensor built into the grip. When picked up by authorized user, the gun unlocks within one second. If an unauthorized user picks up the gun, however, it will not unlock.
While a January 2016 study suggested that nearly 60% of Americans would be willing to purchase a smart gun, firearms makers have been reluctant to invest, facing heavy pressure from the National Rifle Association.