The Time Factor and Active Shooter Incidents

Terrorists, whether domestic or foreign, organization-based or truly lone wolf and unconnected, all have important advantages favoring the success of their attacks: they can exploit the multiple vulnerabilities that exist in civil society (notwithstanding whether the terrorists operate in democratic or authoritarian states), and time is on their side.

Terrorists exploit shock and time.

There is not much that can be done to remove shock from the equation. A terrorist with a gun, a bomb, a knife or a truck can wreak a lot of havoc. Shock can paralyze potential victims and make it hard for law enforcement to go after the perpetrator.

In Israel, practically every adult has military training, and many Israelis are armed. While successful attacks have occurred (bombings, shootings, vehicle attacks, and knifings, to name some), the advantage Israel generally has is rapid reaction based on the simple fact that armed citizens know what to do when a terrorist attacks.

Most of the rest of the world is different. A police presence can help, but even then, in certain scenarios terrorists can be effective. Security guards can also help, but very often they are the first target of an intruder in a building or facility. In June 2009, a white supremacist 89-year-old James Wenneker von Brunn entered the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC with a rifle and killed Museum Special Police Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns. Other guards shot at von Brunn, who was wounded and apprehended.

A very important component in terrorist incidents is how long it takes for law enforcement to react and to neutralize the attacker. In Las Vegas from the time 911 was sounded to the SWAT team destroyed the hotel room door where the shooter was took 72 minutes. This gave the shooter ample time to use his ten guns, even reloading some of them while killing 59 people and wounding some 500 others.

Las Vegas has well-trained SWAT teams. Why then did it take 72 minutes?

The same question can be asked in countless other examples, whether the Bataclan night club in Paris, the 2002 Nord-ost siege in the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow, the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007, the Washington Navy Yard attack in the NAVSEA building in September 2013, the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, or the Pulse Nightclub shooting in June, 2017.

In almost every case the problem amounted to a "time" problem.

The time problem consists of the following issues: (a) trying to locate a shooter and (b) attempting to reach the shooter and neutralize him (or her).

Even with current security systems, it is not easy to locate a shooter. The reasons for this are the lack of proper coverage by cameras and sensors leading to many blind spots, the inability to interpret surveillance images when they are available, the fact that a shooter may be moving around (although it would seem in the Las Vegas case, from what we know now, that the shooter operated from a hotel room and smashed out windows so he could fire on the country music festival).

Most security systems in the United States, and elsewhere in the world, were designed 25 or more years ago. While some improvements have been made (WIFI digital cameras replacing old analog cameras), overall the nature of these systems has not changed much. What they offer are "pictures" from different cameras that are flashed across a computer screen or a TV monitor. Someone in a command center is supposed to watch these pictures and sound an alarm if something happens and if they "see" it. This type of security "system" primarily is valuable for collecting forensic information after an incident or suspect intrusion. There the video feed can be examined. Even in London, one of the most wired-up cities in the world, it takes police anywhere from hours to days to make use of surveillance camera video footage as an aid to apprehending a terrorist. Obviously, that is helpful, but it would be better if the camera feed could be accessed in a more direct fashion.

An Israeli inventor who was the lead manager for installing security systems in 25 sensitive Israeli villages and who also built a security system for a prison along the Egyptian border (to keep terrorists out, not just to keep prisoners in), saw this weakness in current security systems and set out to fix the problem. His name is Eran Jedwab and his product is called JedEye. It is the first system to bolt onto traditional security systems and provide security guards and police with real-time situational awareness of a threat including full visualization of a facility or campus. The system is now being installed at locations in the United States.

Other technologies also could be very useful, but promoting them has been a "hard sell" in the United States. One of them is gunshot detectors. Gunshot detectors can actually locate a shooter in a millisecond,  can aim cameras in the shooter's location and can even be slaved to sniper rifles in the hands of law enforcement. While gunshot detectors in the past are fixed in place, today mobile gunshot detectors can be mounted on police vehicles. There are a few companies that offer such products including Shotspotter in Newark, California and Safety Dynamics in Tucson, Arizona. Had a mobile gunshot detector been in Las Vegas, the shooter would have been accurately located immediately.

It would help a great deal if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was more proactive in sponsoring and testing new technology aimed at reducing the time it takes to neutralize an active shooter or an intruder. While DHS (through the TSA) has spent heavily on airport passenger and baggage security systems, much of the rest has been underfunded or neglected. Now is the time for DHS, supported by the Congress, to go into high gear in sponsoring solutions that reduce the time it takes to stop a terrorist.