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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Spotting a Weapon on Camera Before a Shot Is Fired: The Evolution of Threat Detection Technology

Detection technology isn’t just about recognizing the face of a bad actor in a crowd, but spotting and relaying within a few seconds — no matter how vast the network of surveillance cameras — whether a stranger pulls a weapon on a campus, in a store or a hotel.

The real-world implication, especially for school security, was “one of the reasons that we got into the threat detection technology, detecting guns and weapons in real time and then people altering their behavior,” Shaun Moore, co-founder and CEO of Trueface, told HSToday at the Connect:ID biometrics expo in Washington.

“We kind of look at it in a way that people’s behavior can be distilled down to math — it’s people programmatically operating on a pattern throughout the day. You go to work from 9 to 5, you work 7 to 9, whatever those hours are, you go home, typically the security guards come – there are patterns, so there’s a baseline for a lot of operations,” he explained. “And if we notice anything out of the ordinary on that baseline, there’s a flag there, that’s an anomaly in behavior, so that’s something to look into. So that’s the human behavior characteristic way of identifying that potential threat.”

“The other is weapon detection – rifles, handguns, pistols – we even check them in real time so if they are pulled we know exactly where that was pulled and who’s pulled that weapon. It’s not preventative, maybe it’s a deterrent, it’s not pre-crime, but it’s a way to reduce the time it takes to respond to an event, to know exactly where this person is and where they’re going, and to know what they have on them.”

Moore notes that before the shooter opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018, he “had actually carried that rifle around in a hallway with a camera, in a stairwell, and held that rifle for quite some time before ever going to shoot anyone.”

“This technology running would have stopped that from happening. We’re looking for the actual object. So it has to be in sight of the camera,” he said. “And then that alert gets passed in real time to whoever’s monitoring that system. And they make the decision on whether or not to pursue.”

Trueface began in 2013 with facial recognition technology, and over the past few years shifted with the demand from hardware to software — putting the tech on already extensive camera systems used by many facilities including hotels, airports, smart homes, stadiums, or schools. The software concentration allowed the company to focus on better discerning faces “in the wild” — dealing with “very difficult to capture environments” such as cameras positioned high on ceilings and faces that are partially covered.

Advanced detection technology means personnel at facilities with hundreds of cameras don’t have to sit there and pore through a manual 24-hour review of the footage. “Ingesting thousands of hours of footage and making sense of it seconds” is “not an easy thing to do,” Moore said.

Whereas law enforcement could spend a week or more reviewing security camera footage after an event happens, looking for one specific thing, detection technology “can now do that in seven seconds.”

Businesses have sought this sort of technology not only to spot threats but for a dual benign purpose: to recognize the faces of registered VIPs and give them extra customer service. Hotels, for instance, can use facial recognition on members who “have opted in, submitted their picture, and say that they want an elevated level of experience based on identity.” Technology can blur the faces of people who opt out and data is not stored.

“It’s critical to maintain that transparency with the public that this technology is operating at this hotel or is operating in this retail environment or this airport,” Moore said. “…It’s really not this surveillance type of deployment that I think a lot of people assume after watching a lot of movies. We’re focused on how do we drive an economic lever to these businesses and one way to is prevent potentially harmful actions to a building or to people in that building, and the other is by elevating the experience that a VIP has, they want you to come back to that property.”

More reliable and faster biometric technology also increases the interest of government agencies, he said, who have made clear they want to see speed, efficiency and accuracy. “So as a vendor to the government we need to prove that what we say is accurate and true, and once we have that we’ll start to expand the offerings for those agencies,” he said. Trueface recently announced a contract with the Air Force for base and perimeter security.

“We’re only looking for specific people, and under a split second if they’re not identified as a specific person then that information goes away and it’s not stored anywhere,” he said. “…The camera infrastructure is up – that’s no secret to anyone that cities are being watched to deter crime, to find out who’s committing crime; it’s largely for the betterment of society. And adding this technology to that just improves the efficiency of the hardware that’s already there.”

Public privacy concerns are “something that can’t be taken lightly and it’s very important to talk about this, it’s very important to be transparent about this technology,” Moore said. “And I do think there should be regulation on this technology, but it all boils down to what’s the goal, what’s the purpose of this technology – it’s to find those bad actors, it’s not to mass surveil.”

His company is “very careful about who we work with and how they use the technology,” while “the eduction component to this industry” — detailing to the public how it works and for what applications — “is so critical.”

Moore’s company has been “talking a lot with school districts” — accounting for 60 to 70 percent of the firm’s current focus — about detection technology to help spot bad actors on campus before it’s too late. Trueface is a for-profit business but discounts technology for educational institutions, he said, because “we would prefer to see schools deploy this technology and make less money than not see it there.”

One of the most important components in detection-technology deals is trust, Moore stressed.

“It’s highly sensitive technology and it can be used inappropriately in the wrong hands. There’s a lot of trust that has to be established,” he said, noting that in the future procurement outlook “performance is going to continue to improve and everyone’s going to reach a level where accuracy [is] at 99.9 percent – so now it’s how fast can you do this, how fast can you scale, and does it work with existing video management.”

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Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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