Last Updated on February 23, 2023
Metal detectors and other entryway security is familiar in places like airports, government buildings and some public schools. But weapons detection is increasingly needed in nontraditional settings like hospitals, churches, casinos, theme parks, malls and stadiums that call for more advanced capabilities.
The latest systems are “touchless,” allowing most people to quickly move through without bag checks, pat-downs or emptying your pockets. They leverage AI and advanced sensors to detect a wider range of threats more accurately. And they are IP-connected, putting them squarely in the IoT ecosystem that increasingly straddles physical security and cybersecurity disciplines.
To explain how the latest entryway security works—including how his company temporarily used the technology to detect people with COVID-19 symptoms—Chris Ciabarra, Co-Founder and CTO at Athens Security, joined a recent episode of The Virtual CISO Podcast. John Verry, Pivot Point Security CISO and Managing Partner, hosts the show.
Portable and unobtrusive
Athena Security’s weapon detection system uses just two poles, which you can hide behind lightweight coverings so they fade into the background. Each pole weighs about 35 pounds, making them simple to reposition and move. The system can be deployed in a new location in under a minute.
Rather than needing security staff alongside the unit, they can be elsewhere on the premises, monitoring the detection system with a tablet. If a weapon is detected, the system texts the relevant security staff and shows them an image of the person’s face and where and when they entered.
Active and passive metal detection
The Athena Security system has 300 antennas compared to about 30 antennas on conventional metal detectors. This is fundamentally what allows the technology to differentiate between a handgun and a cell phone. It’s also why you have to unload your pockets before passing through an old-school metal detector, which can’t make the same distinction.
“Obviously, it’s not perfect,” acknowledges Chris. “If you have a lot of things in your backpack, it might get confused. But for most people, it’ll allow you to keep your backpack on. You’ll walk through with no problem.”
The antennas support multiple sensor types, including thermal, electromatic (induction) and metal detection. Due to client requests, Athena is in the process of adding explosive detection, which requires chemical sensors. But for now, the system focuses squarely on detecting “mass casualty threats”: handguns, shotguns, machine guns and rifles.
Detecting active COVID-19 cases
Back when COVID-19 first emerged, Chris’s team ended up using their thermal detection technology to spot people with higher-than-normal body temperatures.
“We were doing visual light detection when we first started out in 2018,” shares Chris. “Then COVID hit and everybody started asking for touchless concealed weapons detection, which is where we started with thermal imaging. And we were like, ‘Why don’t we just use the technology to detect body temperatures.’”
Athena quickly converted their early solution to perform temperature detection, and then ultimately rolled out a superbly effective weapons detection system that has thermal imaging embedded in it.
Dealing with detection
How customers use the Athena system depends on how their premises are configured, among other factors.
“If places have 15 or 20 different entryways, you’re not going to staff every single entryway,” Chris explains. “Some clients chose to do a choke point and have everyone funnel into one entryway and then go out. Some businesses put one of our systems at every entry point and then staff just the main entry points. If someone comes in with a weapon, you can lock the entry down and have them wait for security staff to get over there and deal with them.”
Athena is also developing “self-controlled” systems that have a turnstile type of locking mechanical gate, where the turnstile only opens after a person is cleared by the weapons detector.
In most instances where a concealed weapon is detected, the bearer just forgot they were carrying it and can just go put it back in their car. But even if someone’s intent is malicious, remotely monitored systems can still be safer for security staff and others in the building than old-school metal detectors.
To catch the whole show with Chris Ciabarra from Athena Security, click here.
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