If you are looking for an answer, it is here; it is just not what you might expect.
According to a 2018 Exploredia article, among the top 10 list of 21st century accomplishments in science are: finding ice on Mars, growing a new organ from a stem cell, breaking the petaflop barrier, and turning water into fuel. My personal favourites, which did not make the list, include Tesla landing two re-usable Space-X rockets safely back on Earth and Elon Musk sending his favourite sports car into outer space!
Such epic accomplishments are mostly easy to spot; they capture our imagination, help save many lives and answer age-old questions. Very few can be critical of their significance. Finding such problems to solve is not that hard, prioritising them is. Higher priority problems should appear high on the list, because they are huge problems affecting countless lives. I wrote this article because the one I would like to be a part of, but have not yet heard talked about as much, is solving school shootings.
We can all agree that the way we stop a mass casualty event is by eliminating the threat as early on in the timeline as we can.
But that is difficult, because we cannot read people’s minds; we cannot intervene in a potential shooter’s life until he actually commits a crime or tells us of his intent; we cannot predict who, when and where, everywhere, all the time. So, what is left? Make it very likely that when a homicidal maniac arrives at his chosen target, he will be incapacitated quickly and with certainty. Make it extremely likely he will fail, in ignominy. An agile building can solve all of these problems.
An agile building is a building equipped with certain features that would make it nearly impossible for a person who has evil intent to wantonly take the precious lives of unsuspecting innocent people in that building, such as a school, day care, a mall, office building, airport, concert hall, sporting venue or theatre. So, why has this not been done already?
Well, we have all heard someone say, “If we can put a man on the moon, then why can’t we…”, followed by some amazing idea they just came up with. However, recently, when it came down to yet another violent and indiscriminate mass killing in a building with lots of people in it, we predictably reacted with horror as the parade of witnesses, family, friends and television crews all watched and listened while law enforcement looked blankly into the cameras with the same old question we have all heard too often, “How could we have prevented this?”
We could have prevented this if we made our buildings agile!
We could have prevented Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and even the Vegas shooting. I am tired of the same solutions being studied, but never delivered. If you are sick of hearing the same explanations, such as our courageous first responders did not get there fast enough, the background checks should be more thorough, or our overworked investigators did not follow up leads, then send this article to your elected officials! Tell them this problem can be solved today and with existing technology.
Today, machines can shoot projectiles to disrupt bad behaviour in humans in many different ways, like the pepper ball gun you see here. We also have robots that can spot-weld a car moving down an assembly line. We have cameras that can see what colour a person’s eyes are at 90 metres and lead us to a missing shoe box on aisle 5. We have software that can sort/target/locate, within 80 hours of video, the exact moment when the burglar took a brick and broke the window. We have control rooms that can direct a national security response, in real time, on the other side of the planet. I am not telling you anything you do not know already. But has anyone connected the dots?
An agile building is a building that can ‘defend’ its occupants against human threats, in real time.
With current technology, we could keep our children safe. We do not need to arm teachers, pay an army of armed security guards, break down the doors of law abiding gun owners, or burden society with a massive program. All we have to do is deliver four key component systems to every large venue we want to protect:
- Regulatory path forward: Government needs to clear the path for schools, airports, malls and sporting and entertainment venues to make their buildings agile. Government can do this by creating standards tight enough to prevent harm to the innocent, and loose enough to give law enforcement the tools they need to preserve life and prevent loss.
- Robotic response delivery systems: Currently, there exists the technology to remotely control a robotic device to interfere with, report on and stop a bad actor. The means to install this technology in an existing building could happen tomorrow. Modern engineers can install machines in walls or ceilings or on reinforced pylons or tactical vehicles. They can be made tamper-proof and vandal-proof and be designed to deliver pepper pellets, tear gas, rubber bullets, BBs or any other kind of non-lethal force to a single or multiple targets with precision. Even a perpetrator with a gas mask on is vulnerable to rubber bullets, grease paint balls and BBs, which can obscure or eliminate a bad actor’s will to continue or the ability to prosecute an assault.
- Central control station: Currently, there exists the technology to build communications centres capable of remotely applying appropriate force to a person or persons, instantly, and with efficiency, which can make a real difference in these types of situations. Trained human beings are needed to control these defensive systems, in an appropriate manner, within seconds, not minutes, after a serious situation is detected. For example, it takes a manager at a grocery store seconds to tell the security person in the control room to direct his attention to the person with the booster bag in the beer aisle. What if that security person was a police officer and that shoplifter was a bad actor looking for someone to injure or kill? If the camera had a non-lethal countermeasure attached directly to it, then the person could be incapacitated or distracted long enough to give the innocent bystanders time to escape the danger.
- Information processing and delivery: The dominant conversation over the radio at the most recent horrific mass shooting in Florida was, “Where is the shooter?”, “Which way did he go?”, “What does he look like?”. A system like the one being suggested needs to have its own dedicated network, like fire and police have now – a dedicated data pipe going directly to large venues, either by fast streaming wireless or by fibre. If the police cannot see what is going on, then they cannot know how to act on that information. A path needs to be cleared so our society can allow these to be put in place.
Agile building technology can stop a shooter within minutes, even seconds, after he is detected by directing incapacitating force at that individual, with accuracy and effectiveness, in multiple places at the same time. A small group of controllers can police an entire school district and answer every threat at any school within their domain.
The system illustrated in the video in the NBC News Report in the comments section of the online version of this article is an example of everything I am talking about. It could have disoriented the intruder enough to allow law enforcement time to intervene. (Author’s note: A contact of mine originally posted this video. This whole concept is not my original idea, as much as it is an essential conversation. Although some of what I am suggesting is how I was thinking, it most likely is intuitively obvious to more than one security professional.)
I am a loss prevention professional. We study how to keep people safe in large venues like department stores, malls, markets and theme parks. Active shooters are threats we take very seriously. I know what it would take to turn this idea into a credible response to something that should have been solved years ago. And if this humble store detective can prove it could work with a few spec sheets, some proof of concept video, and some decent science, what are we waiting for?