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A Retail-Centric Technology for Active Shooter Response

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Today, anonymous aggregated tracking is being used by retail establishments to understand the mobility patterns of customers.  By collecting non-personally identifiable information and aggregating it over time, marketers can understand how shoppers move through their store, where they spend time, and where they don’t.  With this data, companies can better design store layouts and make better decisions on where to place their goods.

With some minor changes to the way data is being managed and analyzed, the use of this technology may be beneficial to security personnel when responding to an active shooter event. While I am not a security expert, rather a location technology consultant, my intent of this short abstract is to explore the possible use of an indoor and outdoor campus occupant tracking system for the purpose of improving security personnel’s operational picture during an active shooter event.

Indoor and outdoor tracking utilizes a person’s smartphone as a sensor.  Wi-Fi enabled smart phones continuously seek a Wi-Fi signal.  Each time they do, they transmit a unique identifier called a media access control address (MAC address).  This MAC address does not contain personally identifiable information, but each phone has its own unique MAC address.  Cell phone carriers associate MAC addresses with phone plan owners and it is technically possible to associate names to the individual MAC addresses.  However, this information must be voluntarily provided by the user or acquired by way of a subpoena.

Indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi access points, about the size of a deck of cards, are utilized to capture the smart phone signal.  Through triangulation the location of each smart phone can be tracked inside a building or outdoors in a parking lot or campus environment.  People without smart phones and smart phones with Wi-Fi disabled will not be tracked.

Because not all building occupants will have a Wi-Fi enabled smart phone on their person, the technology cannot be relied upon to confirm the location of 100% of the occupants.  However, in an environment with smart phone usage is high (such as a college campus) a large majority of the occupants will be visible to the system.  This can be useful for finding hiding occupants and injured victims so a plan can be developed to extricate them.  To track all authorized occupants, employees and known visitors can be provided with a small Wi-Fi “stick” or other transmitter to attach to their access badge for tracking by the system.

It is also possible to add an additional layer of functionality through the use of an installed app on the smart phones of authorized building or campus occupants.  Again, using a college environment as an example, students and faculty could pre-install an app.  Then, if a situation arises, information can be fed to individuals in real time from a control room.  With an installed app, security personnel would have the capability of identifying and communicating with individuals directly.  Information communicated may include safe exit routes and last known location of the active shooter.  All of this would be communicated in a map based interface that graphically displays relative locations within the building.

This system as described above is not yet developed for security professionals.  However, individual components of the described indoor tracking system are built and proven capable.  GISi has built hundreds of custom solutions for government and private industry clients.  The frameworks are in place and it is technically feasible to build an indoor and campus tracking system as described.  Colleges, school systems, hospitals, malls, corporate campuses, and any organization that considers the safety of their students, customers, employees, and visitors paramount may benefit from this system.

Keith King is a Business Development Manager for our Private Industry group and a subject matter expert on Wi-Fi based location technology. You can connect with Keith on LinkedIn for further insight into this and other technologies.

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