Acoustic Sensing and the Internet of Things Combat Gun Violence Outcomes

June 18, 2018

Pop. Pop pop. Pop.

In some places, these noises come from mischievous adolescents popping firecrackers. A few nights of the year, the explosive noises accompany glowing, sparkling fireworks across the evening sky. However, elsewhere, these characteristic pops indicate a darker scenario: gun violence – from homicides, gang fights and suicides.

According to the University of Washington, 3.85 deaths in the United States per 100,000 people are gun deaths. These numbers don’t account for the vast numbers of unreported firearm crimes. The consequences of gun violence occur swiftly and can wound a community deeply. In crowded public places, such as schools and venues, the results are devastating.

While prevention, cultural norms and local laws play the biggest roles in reducing gun violence, public safety strategy can mitigate the effects of a shooting. Incorporating technology especially offers improvement to emergency responses. Advanced, precise sensors and smart city IoT systems that harness public data are key potential solutions.

Can sensors reduce gun violence?

Acoustic sensors reduce gun violence by speeding up and increasing detection of firearm discharges. These sensors can be mechanical or electrical. They use GPS triangulation and decibel reading to determine type and location of “impulsive noises.” Using these precise devices works toward public safety strategy in two key ways. First, it results in more reported incidents. Higher reporting can lead to more illegal firearm recovery or prompt attention to potentially fatal injuries. Acoustic sensing also rapidly detects incidents, speeding up and streamlining emergency responses.

One public safety technology that relies on this type of sensor technology is Shotspotter, a program utilized in 90 cities around the United States. The company uses an acoustic sensing network to detect impulsive noises typical of gunfire and a cloud software-as-a-service program to notify public safety officials. Cities can lease and install systems mile-by-mile as needed. Individual companies may also use the service for campus security.

In outdoor locations, the listening device detects and timestamps an identification, triangulates its origin and relays the details to a review center. A specialist then confirms the incident. Within 30-45 seconds of the initial detection, the local public safety team receives a notification with details. For indoor locations, the sensors both listen for the impulsive firing noise and scan for the infrared flash of a barrel. Security officers in the building are notified of the discharges and their location within 10 seconds.

In both scenarios, the company provides contextual information of the incident as well as intelligence regarding the gunfire. This information can include number of shooters or distinct weapons as well as the presence of high-capacity weapons. Officers notified can take appropriate precautions and arrive on scene quickly. According to self-reported information, cities that use Shotspotter experience a 35% decrease in gunfire incident volumes.

The use of sensors in gunfire detection is not a new concept. Shotspotter debuted its program in 2006, but acoustic sensing had already been under research by militaries at that point. In 2011 and the subsequent few years, The Netherlands, United States and Singapore incorporated acoustic vector sensors into battlefield strategies. These advanced tools can be equipped on helicopters, other guns, head gear and drones to detect, locate and analyze battlefield threats.

A Smart City Approach to Gun Violence

Despite the potential success of acoustic sensing, there can be downsides. Reporters at Forbes have written about the potential cost inefficiency associated with programs like Shotspotter. Other critics say that despite the improvement to emergency response times, the increased surveillance and lack of deterrence don’t justify the high cost. Criminal justice analysts also point out that these technologies monetize their businesses via Big Data availability. Their profit comes at a cost to public research and government access to this useful data.

However, these issues can be alleviated with smart city technology. This includes using IoT-equipped light fixtures, edge device surveillance cameras and having a transparency policy regarding technology use. It would also mean sharing data across platforms for open source collaboration to ensure bias-free better policing. Applying AI programs to city wide gun violence data in real time could contribute to predictive policing that reduces overall firearm crimes.

For example, Shotspotter just partnered with the Verizon Smart Communities initiative. The IoT connectivity not only sped up the detection process, but also linked the warning system to tactics such as increasing streetlight brightness and sending notifications to the closest officer rather than a central control system.

While gun violence is one of the loudest crimes on our streets, acoustic sensing and smart city technology can be used to improve public safety in a variety of ways. Sealevel is a proud partner of US public safety teams. If IoT edge technology could benefit your community, we would love to help you.