Combat Technology Comes to Virginia Beach School
By Pete Humes
Those two words can transform any ordinary day into a tragedy. When those shots are fired inside a school, that day becomes every parent's nightmare.
According to an FBI report, there were 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013. Thirty-nine of them took place at a school or university. When shooters open fire, their violence creates a cloud of chaos and confusion that can slow the arrival of first responders. Police and emergency medical teams can arrive on the scene late and with little to no information about the situation.
One Hampton Roads security company has decided to help change that.
Today, as students at one Virginia Beach private school go about their normal day, few of them probably realize that they are the first in the area with an active gunshot detection system. Devices that were originally developed to help American soldiers in active combat sit quietly on the walls. They are always listening, always ready to respond.
Developed in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Raytheon, the gunshot detection system was originally designed to help American soldiers pinpoint snipers in Iraq. Massachusetts-based Shooter Detection Systems LLC is one of the companies that have repurposed this wartime technology for commercial use.
The SDS Guardian isn't designed to prevent gunfire. Instead it works as a kind of "gunshot smoke alarm," processing information in the fractions of a second after a trigger is pulled.
How does it work? The SDS Guardian device "hears" and "sees" gunshots. Acoustic detection software instantly recognizes when shots have been fired. It can distinguish between a firearm and a slamming door. The device's infrared gunfire flash detection identifies that a weapon has been discharged. Within one second, it sends that data, and an alert message, to building occupants and first responders.
Ross Vierra is familiar with the need for rapid response when it comes to saving lives. The 37-year-old served as an officer in the U.S. Navy for a decade before starting Axis Global Enterprises and ASI Security. Before his military career, he was active in the student volunteer rescue squad at Virginia Tech.
In April 2007, Vierra was in the military when a shooter opened fire on the Blacksburg campus, killing 32 and wounding 17. The tragedy at his alma mater made an understandable impression on him and was no doubt top of mind when he attended a demonstration of the gunshot detection technology in Moyock, N.C., late last year.
"I was extremely impressed with its capabilities," Vierra said. "It was absolutely amazing."
ASI Security became one of the first registered distributors for the SDS Guardian system.
When a Catholic school in Virginia Beach expressed interest in the system, Vierra decided that his company would donate the time and materials. SDS offered a discount on the equipment. For security reasons, administrators of the school have requested that it remain anonymous.
"Getting this in the school was important," Vierra said. "I think it will be the technology of the future... unfortunately."
But these days, when it comes to security, most schools are just struggling to keep up with the technology of the present. The National Center for Education Statistics survey for the 2013-2014 school year shows that 93 percent of all schools control access to the building with buzzers and locked doors, 75 percent use video cameras and 82 percent have electronic system to alert parents in an emergency. When it comes to incorporating hardware that cost $20 million in research and development, a school's biggest obstacle is money.
Price tags for the SDS gunshot detection systems vary wildly, depending on the size and scope of the school. Vierra agrees with a previously reported range of $10,000 to $100,000 for installation and equipment, depending on the number of units installed. Each system is custom-designed, and there are also ongoing testing, monitoring and service fees.
For already underfunded schools, this level of security technology is out of financial reach.
That's where Del. Scott Taylor, R-85th District, comes in. The former Navy SEAL was present at the Moyock demo of the SDS Guardian and was equally impressed. He already had firsthand experience with similar combat technology during his time in Iraq.
"I know the system. When you see the system, it's a no-brainer," Taylor said. "It should be in every school in Virginia."
Both Vierra and Taylor agree that once people learn more about what the system does and how it operates, getting it into schools will become a priority.
"Education is everything," Vierra said. "We want to get people aware that this system is out there."
ASI Security has several installation projects planned for the Hampton Roads area, including several schools.
Back in Richmond, Taylor is working to raise awareness of gunshot detection technology and looking at possibilities for legislation.
But he also knows that there are political obstacles when it comes to introducing unfunded mandates.
"There will be some push-back," Taylor said. "But to me, the ability to save even one life outweighs the expense."
Article reprinted from Inside Business