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Why Retrofit Educational Facilities with Gunshot Detection Technology?

The recent active shooter incident at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris was a stark reminder that active shooting events are widespread and horrific.  Like the shooting at Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa, the mass shootings of children in a Pakistani school and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, each of these leaves us wondering how we can make our buildings and schools safer. 

Retrofitting existing buildings and schools with gunshot detection technology or active shooter alarms can speed up notification of and response to such situations.   Studies show a direct link between response time and lives saved, emphasizing that reducing first responder time is critical.  The most comprehensive gunshot detection technology that provides indoor and outdoor coverage automatically alerts authorities to the first shot fired, even if the shooter is outside, as is often the case.  Monitoring systems provide 24x7 situational awareness of the shooter’s whereabouts within the building, school, or campus. Gunshot detection technology alerts authorities and medical personnel to the precise location of the shots – the specific floor and room and improves their tactical plan for threat elimination. 

Retrofitting a building, or school with this technology is easy and affordable.    Generally, it only requires placement of a small acoustic sensor on the wall or ceiling of any room or hallway where coverage is wanted.  The sensors are connected to a network that processes sounds and alerts authorities to any gunfire detected. The outdoor sensors work similarly, being mounted outdoors on rooftops or lampposts to create network of sensors providing an outdoor dome of protection around the building or campus.  A system can be installed and operational in a matter of weeks, for less than a couple of dollars per square foot and multiple years of protection. 

Active shooter alarms are easier and cheaper to install than video cameras, and keep in mind that cameras only provide key information after the event has occurred, and only if the attacker was in an area where cameras are present.  If the building already has cameras installed, active shooter alarm systems can also trigger the cameras to react, thereby enhancing the value of the cameras in such scenarios.

In the last 25 years, thanks  to fire alarm and suppression systems in new school buildings and the proactive retrofitting of old schools with these systems, no children have been killed by fires in schools.  In that same period, over 200 schoolchildren have died due to active shooters.  An active shooter alarm system will not prevent a shooter, nor will an armed guard (Ottawa) or a locked door (Sandy Hook) or access control (Paris) in the same way that a fire alarm will not prevent a fire.  However, like a fire alarm, gunshot detection technology does provide immediate awareness of the threat and its automatic alerting of authorities can save lives.  If retrofitting a building or school to protect against gunshots is this easy, shouldn’t every school do it?

Damaune Journey is vice president of security solutions for SST

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