Reimagining Gunshot Detection for Enhanced Community Safety

New portable system employs two methods of detection for increased accuracy and reduced false positives.

New and improved gunshot detection technology will soon make American communities of all sizes safer. The Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and its industry partner Shooter Detection Systems (SDS) developed SDS Outdoor, a gunshot detection system that builds on existing SDS technology to deliver new capabilities that significantly improve the response and management of outdoor shootings.

Among these new capabilities are portability and ease of system set up at any location, two-source detection—sound and flash—to confirm a gunshot, real-time alerts that provide near-instant situational awareness to law enforcement and emergency medical responders, and enhanced data recording that aids apprehension and conviction of alleged shooters.

Portability allows the system to be set up practically anywhere, including near outdoor events, and a single person can install it. Additionally, the enhanced system tells law enforcement when and where a gunshot originates, cutting response times dramatically and providing police officers actionable information—for example, data that helps them to determine if there is a single shooter or multiple shooters. Agencies can then use that information to coordinate resource response and counter an active threat.

“It takes about two to three minutes for an individual to call 911 after a gunshot. Gunshot detection technology cuts that time in half and sends a notification to local law enforcement. Police could then dispatch a unit quicker to either stop the incident that's occurring or to assist in preventing any lives being taken,” said Wilhelm Thomas, officer with the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) Counterterrorism Division. “If we're there first, we can lock down the scene. This will provide security for the emergency medical services (EMS) and thus help prevent the loss of more lives.”

Although gunshot detection technology is currently in use, it can only be installed at fixed locations. For outdoor public events, portable gunshot detection technology can add another layer of security to already installed security systems like cameras.

“This system does not prevent gunshots. It detects an ongoing shooting to help first responders get there faster,” said Anthony Caracciolo, S&T program manager for First Responder Technology. “The more details officers have about an incident, the quicker they can identify and eliminate the threat, and EMS can tend injured victims safely.”

More than two years ago, S&T’s First Responder Resource Group set out to extend gunshot detection capabilities to locations that do not support fixed deployments, such as open areas where large crowds may gather temporarily. Since then, the project has progressed into prototype design, gathering opinions from first responders, and, most recently, a November 2022 Operational Field Assessment (OFA) led by S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL).

“We started this project because most existing gunshot detection technologies come with limitations, and they may also trigger false alarms,” said Caracciolo. “An outdoor mobile detector that can be easily deployed in the field for a concert or other outdoor event is needed.”
Detecting gunshots almost instantly

SDS Outdoor has several interesting added features. For starters, one to two people can transport and install the system. Also, the tech delivers critical intelligence about an outdoor shooting incident almost instantaneously to first responders. Moreover, it dramatically reduces false-positive alerts.

“Unlike other detection systems, which mostly rely just on acoustics, our indoor gunshot detection system pairs two types of sensors—for the firearm’s infrared flash and acoustic bang—to get the false-alert rate way down,” said Richard Onofrio, SDS’ managing director. “We've applied that same concept to this development where we've increased the coverage area considerably.”

Prior to an outdoor event, officers can map out placement locations, install the system in minutes, and select the response agencies whom SDS Outdoor will alert if a shooting occurs.

As a plus, the gunshot detection tech’s alerting software integrates with the existing platforms used by first responders, including security cameras and dispatch systems. If internet is unavailable at an event site—no problem! The tech can communicate with the software application directly in more of a ‘local only’ mode.

The satellite-enabled emergency response system that could make a life-saving difference

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged ambulance services like never before. First RESPonse was created to help professionals respond to emergency calls more rapidly through enhanced technology. With support by ESA Space Solutions, the system developed in a Demonstration Project streamlined communication and information sharing throughout the chain of response and reduced call-to-hospital times for patients by up to 17%.

During the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency call centres experienced extremely high rates of urgent medical calls. Coordination of the ambulance response was challenging and made more complex by the changing landscape of medical resources; hospitals were filling up, and temporary emergency facilities were opening.

The First RESPonse (First Rapid Emergency System against Pandemic) project launched in Italy in July 2020, with the aim to improve coordination of the entire process of a medical emergency request: from a patient’s distress call to the point of hospitalisation.

The project brought together two major players in European emergency service software and telecommunications: GINA Software and Beta 80. Forming a new consortium, the companies achieved complete integration of their products and – supported by ESA – incorporated space technology for enhanced geolocation accuracy and communication coverage.
Digital links for a faster chain

First RESPonse digitally connects each link in the emergency chain of response. It begins with an app on a citizen’s smartphone, through which they can call for help, see when help has been dispatched and when it is due to arrive. Ambulance dispatchers in the call centre have a constant digital connection to their crews via a workstation. They can keep them updated on the scene and patient’s condition, and the status of the nearest hospital facilities. First responders have a tablet through which they receive up-to-date information about the patient, automatic SatNav to their location and can video consult with a doctor from the field. They can also scan the patient’s ID card so that receiving hospitals know who is coming in, as well as seeing when they are expected.

The system was piloted by selected ambulance services in Italy and the Czech Republic and used in almost 9,000 incidents. In this pilot project, First RESPonse accelerated the pre-hospital chain by between 12 and 17%.

Arnaud Runge, Medical Engineer at ESA said: “In a medical emergency every minute counts. Cutting the time it takes an ambulance to reach a critically ill patient, and to get them to hospital, can make a life-saving difference. We’re proud to have enhanced First RESPonse with space technology.”
From pandemic to systemic

Following the successful completion of the pilot, First RESPonse is being promoted to emergency services more widely in Italy and the Czech Republic – where GINA and Beta 80 have most of their customers – and beyond.

Martin Ingr from GINA said: “The products and services that were created during the project are aimed to remain sustainable also after the pandemic is overcome. Our goal is that the problems solved through the First RESPonse project become part of the standard operation procedure. The system can be used again against this or other pandemics, during the response to disasters such as earthquakes, as well as improving daily operations of emergency services.”

[Source: ESA]