Woburn company partners to create shooter detection system
The U.S Department of Homeland Security defines an active shooter as “an individual who is engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”
How quickly law enforcement responds depends largely on how soon they learn of the event. Today, the technology exists to notify not only law enforcement, but simultaneously people in a building, where an active shooter may be.
Steven Feinberg, president of BCM Controls Corporation in Woburn, said the technology was originally developed from military applications. BCM partnered with Shooter Detection Systems of Rowley, which was involved with development of the product.
“They’ve adapted it for use in settings… large buildings, arenas, schools, universities, museums and government buildings,” he said.
Last month, a live-fire demonstration of the Guardian Shooter Detection System was held at BCM’s offices in Woburn. Representatives from approximately 30 customers such as businesses, learning institutions and government offices attended — the majority from the Boston area.
BCM provides video surveillance systems and electronic access control for these clients. After developing a pilot program, BCM developed the integrations needed to work with current surveillance and access systems.
Feinberg said most emergency plans now include types of active shooter responses. It’s the response that BCM seeks to improve upon, from the time shots are initially detected to notifying people within the building as well as the proper law enforcement agencies. Typically, it can take from 13 to 18 minutes to notify security and employees, check video feeds and for law enforcement to arrive.
BCM’s shooter detection system completes a multitude of tasks: a call to 911, video surveillance, including notification by email, text and apps within approximately 30 seconds; and 100 percent shot confirmation.
Feinberg said there are “virtually no false alarms” for something that might sound like a gunshot, such as a car backfiring or even a loud bang.
“With the system in place, you have a 100 percent verification that it has taken place,” he said. “Everything is integrated together.”
Woburn Police Chief Bob Ferullo was impressed.
“They provide real-time dynamic information on any active shooter situation,” he said, comparing it to a fire alarm system that provides another layer of protection for risk in schools and public buildings.
But he cautioned it’s not the only answer.
“It’s just another tool for our toolbox. When combined with appropriate training, response and inter-agency cooperation, it will help us protect our schools and public buildings,” he said.
Matthew P. Guarracino, business development manager with JM Electrical Co. in Lynnfield, liked what he saw.
“Clearly there’s a need and a marketplace for this type of system because of events that have taken place throughout the country,” he said.
Guarracino said his company has worked on a number of projects with BCM in building automation security systems. They have not, he added, installed this particular system, but is something JM Electrical is considering.
Steve LaBissoniere, a construction engineer at BCM, said the system provides more-accurate intelligence compared to the human factor. Through testing, company officials learned without the system, the people engaged — talking to the persons who heard the gunshot, speaking with 911 operators, etc. — are typically a company’s most highly trained people. They are doing things the shooter detection system does automatically.
“People are now involved with the response as opposed to the reporting,” said Feinberg.
Asked if a false positive might be feasible, Feinberg said it was virtually impossible.
“The system uses dual modality — the acoustic bang as well as the infrared flash from the muzzle. Without hearing and seeing both of those events at the same time, it will not activate,” he said.
Nick Cottier, BCM’s marketing administrator, said sensors are every 80 feet in any building and are tested to recognize the sound and flash down to a .22 caliber gun.
Where the senors are placed depends on the building. In a dormitory, sensors approximately the size of a fire alarm switch are placed at entrances, main hallways on first floors and areas where groups of students might gather.
When BCM engineers survey a building, they are looking for a phased approach, from entrances inward, said Feinberg.
The detection system does come with a cost — between $50,000 and $100,000 for a base installation. There is also an additional $5,000 to $10,000 annual software licensing charge.
Crucial response time
Sgt. Duane Weisse, a Tufts University police officer at the school’s Medford-Somerville campus, said the system would work in any academic building or residence hall. He was effusive in his praise of the system’s ability to notify people within approximately 30 seconds of a shot being detected.
“That’s crucial in the response time,” he said. “They’ve got the technology that really drives the device to the infrastructure in place.”
Although the campus is small — emergency vehicles can get anywhere within 30 seconds to a minute — Weisse said the system would be beneficial to any campus.
“You’re getting the information before you’re getting phone calls from people,” he said.