To say that security professionals’ plates are full at the moment would be an understatement. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the industry has stepped up to play a vital role in keeping people safe, secure and even healthy through uncertain and scary times. And while COVID-19 is an incident that needs responding to itself, its presence doesn’t mean other threats have gone away.

“People are under a great deal of stress and uncertainty about their jobs and financial futures, and at the same time, gun sales are up 145 percent as of June,” says Christian Connors, CEO of Shooter Detection Systems, a gunshot detection company based out of Rowley, Mass. “Active shooter preparedness is as important as ever.”

June saw the highest number of monthly gun background checks and the highest number of mass shootings in history.

“If we want to provide a greater value to our clients, we have to save lives,” says Jerry Wilkins, co-owner and vice president of Active Risk Survival, Salisbury, Md., which aims to train security professionals in proper emergency management.

And incident response — even if the incident is an active shooter — isn’t all about gunshot detection.

“Integration provides a powerful tool for combating active shooter situations,” says James Hoang, partnering and integrations manager at Speco Technologies, Amityville, N.Y. Speco has partnered with Shooter Detection Systems and Shot Tracer to integrate gunshot detection solutions into its SecureGuard VMS. “A gunshot detector alone is limited in details of the shooter such as gender, clothing, colors, number of perpetrators and where they’re headed. With the right video in the right area, all these questions can be answered and used to quickly control the situation.”

Many companies that entered the incident response space hoping to help reduce the number of active shooter victims soon realized the number of possible incidents that demand a response is far reaching.

“We entered the incident response business to assist those who face the horrific threat of an active shooter, but we take pride in the fact that our systems are designed to deal with all sorts of critical events, including natural disasters,” says Andre Datyelian, marketing manager, Maxxess, Yorba Linda, Calif.

Dave Sweeney, general manager of Advantech, Dover, Del. (featured on this month’s cover) says that while planning for the unthinkable with clients can be challenging, it is necessary.

“Our society has far too long ignored [incident response], which is why our outcomes haven’t gotten much better,” Sweeney says. “I think the tide is turning, and we help our customers in all different vertical markets, not just K-12. Any vertical market, any business occupancy in today’s day and age, needs to have an emergency response plan. And even the ones that do should probably be amending their plan for things like a pandemic. These emergency response plans are living, breathing documents and practices — not fixed, set-it-and-forget-it things.”


It All Started With a Forest Fire

According to Chris Fowler, director of global risk services at ADT Commercial, Boca Raton, Fla., incident response as an organized, structured process came from fighting forest fires.

“Over time the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with extensive input from experts, developed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and from that developed the Incident Command System (ICS),” Fowler says. “These gave a structured, methodological approach to crisis management.”

Incident response as we know it today really grew with the prevalence of school shootings.

“The founding members of Shooter Detection Systems have been involved in gunshot detection as a military capability since the early 2000s with Raytheon/BBN Technologies,” Connors says. “After Sandy Hook and seeing too many innocent lives taken by active shooters, I felt strongly that we had a responsibility to commercialize our product for schools and workplaces in an indoor system.”

In 2013, they did just that, buying the intellectual property from Raytheon and developing their military product into the Guardian Indoor Active Shooter Detection System.

Athena Security, Austin, Texas, was formed in 2018 in response to the Parkland school shooting.

“The very first purpose of this company was to counter the active shooter epidemic happening in our schools and across the country in recent decades,” says Co-Founder and CEO Lisa Falzone. “In 2018, after the Parkland shooting, I met with Chris Ciabarra, Athena’s co-founder, and said, ‘What can we do to stop this?’ From that conversation, Athena was born.”

But as more companies enter the incident response space to serve as a hero, the threats keep growing and becoming more dangerous.

James Marcella, director of industry associations at Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass., stresses the importance of keeping up with new and emerging threats.

“Like many endeavors, incident response has evolved over time,” Marcella says. “Resources, events and technologies have served to enhance everything from emergency dispatch and 911 emergency response, to emergency operation centers (EOCs) and real-time crime centers (RTCCs).”


A Work in Progress

One of the biggest shifts happening in incident response technologies now is from reactive to proactive response.

“Up until recent history, what elementary schools did was a monthly fire drill and quarterly air raid drill — but when was the last time a school burned down or was raided?” Sweeney asks. “In reality, up until the last five or 10 years, we were still practicing from a response perspective — not nearly the appropriate practice for the threats that exist in today’s society.”

Rafael Nader, regional business development manager, South Florida and Tampa, Security 101, Miami, says his customers’ needs have shifted in recent years.

“Now more than ever it is critical to provide a security system that will work operationally for our clients, going from a proactive operational approach as opposed to a reactive one,” Nader says. “This is the new norm in our industry, especially in our schools, hospitals and government agencies.”

Interface Security Systems, Earth City, Mo., is actively working on that shift for their clients’, as well as first responders’ sakes.

“Law enforcement all over the country is so overstretched,” says Sean Foley, Interface’s senior vice president of national accounts. “Where we bring a lot of value is taking care of that incident or emergency before the police get involved.”

STANLEY Security, Fishers, Ind., is planning on launching a gunshot detection solution in late 2020 with concussive wave sensors that will trigger an alarm monitored by a central station. Brad McMullen, general manager of security products and solutions at STANLEY (which includes 3xLOGIC, Sonitrol and PACOM), says that ensuring the solution can expand, scale and innovate over time is key.

Datyelian says the Maxxess team makes the same considerations. “When implementing a new system like this, it is critical to make sure it fits the company’s culture, policies and procedures...It’s also important to make sure the system is built in a way where it can adjust to issues that we may not face now, but will in the future.”

Genetec, Montreal, had flexibility top-of-mind when designing its Mission Control product.

“We offer flexibility for the customer to create their own response,” says Product Line Manager Gabriel Labrecque. “Mission Control allows the customer to identify or qualify what would be an incident. Based on that, they can have the crude system react automatically as well as provide guidance or response for the operator, but the response itself is customized by the end user or consultant.”


Responding to COVID-19

While everyone may approach incident response in a slightly different way, the experts SDM interviewed for this story could agree on one thing: COVID-19 and pandemics like it are critical incidents that should be planned for. 

One school district Jerry Wilkins of Active Risk Survival works with told him that responding to the coronavirus was like trying to build an airplane in-flight.

“What they acknowledged is that they had no plan to deal with this type of incident, and that’s unacceptable,” Wilkins says. 

“COVID-19 introduced new types of incidents that no one was ready to answer — there was no playbook,” says Gabriel Labrecque of Genetec. “In collaboration with customers, we worked on incident response and procedures to help in a back-to-work scenario.”

One customer asked the Genetec team for a solution that could screen visitors for symptoms via a questionnaire before they entered the building. 

“This falls right into incident response, the incident being the potential risk of a symptomatic person getting into a safe area,” Labrecque says. “Based on the results and using automation, we would send an email to supervisors letting them know what the outcome of the screening was, so they knew whether an employee would be late to work. Then it would display live on the dashboard how many people were cleared to come in or sent back home.”

Before this process was put in place, the end user was using simple spreadsheets, filled out by hand, to keep track of visitors’ symptoms. 

“So many sensors could alert you of something going on, but what you do to respond to this data is where the incident response comes into play,” Labrecque continues. “Another example is looking at how many people went into the conference room. After a certain number of people, a dispatch should be sent to maintenance to schedule a cleanup.”

Many security companies have been incorporating thermal detection into their incident response plans to combat the coronavirus. 

“COVID-19 is a real security concern because it is an invisible threat and the injuries and death it causes are not real-time,” says Speco’s James Hoang. “The virus cannot be detected by conventional video — the video must be paired with a thermal sensor that can detect fevers in those infected and capable of spreading it to others.”

One problem with thermal detection is that it is mostly manual at the moment. 

“If someone is positive [for COVID-19], what does that process look like?” asks Niru Satgunananthan, business development manager, enterprise solutions and services, Johnson Controls, Milwaukee, Wis. “Everything today is manual, but if you have a large facility where you have to gather this data to provide value for the investment, companies don’t have that today, which is where a proper incident management solution comes in handy.”

Athena Security only provided gunshot detection solutions a year ago, but since the pandemic hit, the company has pivoted.

“We’ve actually refocused our direction from that of just a gun detection company to a fever screening company in order to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the best way we know how: stopping infected folks from infecting larger groups of people,” says Co-Founder and CEO Lisa Falzone. “COVID-19 has also made incident response a contact-free process. You must take into consideration the fact that you can transmit COVID-19 as you come in close contact with those involved in a potential incident.”

Even if they didn’t have a prepared response to a pandemic, organizations can look at the past year as a learning experience and start preparing now for a possible resurgence of the virus.

“COVID-19 has helped reinforce the importance of emergency response plans being dynamic and evolving and constantly evaluated,” says Advantech’s Dave Sweeney. “This was a pandemic that very few people had plans for, and that might not be the end of the world, as long as they learn from it and develop a plan for it the next time. We can all learn from our experiences.”


Technology Advancements

No matter how many bells and whistles an incident response plan may have, if the network cannot support the systems, the plan will fail.

“Perhaps today’s most important determinant of an effective security system is the network behind it,” Hoang says. “The facility must have reliable network infrastructure with adequate bandwidth to support the CCTV equipment that will run on it. Security integrators should always keep that in mind in critical times — a security system is only as good as the network that supports it.”

Sean Foley of Interface says that speed of response is the name of the game, and without a fast network, the response cannot be fast.

“The absolute most important thing when you’re helping an employee in trouble is they hear you and they know you’re there and helping,” Foley says. “Speed of response is what it’s all about, and that requires fast Voice-Over-IP technology and a rock-solid broadband connection.”

Improved interoperability paired together with improved bandwidth is when speed of response can really take off, and both victims of incidents and first responders will benefit.

“Emergency responders hold the highest risk as it relates to safety,” Sweeney says. “So, the faster we can get the info to them, the better. And as the technology becomes more interoperable and accessible, and bandwidth continues to grow, that will become a reality.”

Bandwidth and interoperability, along with analytics, AI and camera updates, have already improved so much in recent years, integrators and manufacturers alike are excited about what the future could hold.

“In recent years, network cameras, security devices and analytics, and their integration with these systems, provides a better level of preparedness and use of resources, and a more effective response commensurate with threat,” Marcella says. “What’s more — the use of scalable, open platforms allows authorities to more easily share information across the system — adding efficiency and life-saving time.”

Sherman Brawner, vice president and general manager of Allied Universal Technology Services, Santa Ana, Calif., says some are actually going beyond system integration now.

“We have evolved from the more typical systems integration to system convergence. This evolution allows sharing of real-time information to multiple parties both onsite and remote with coordinated and controlled response and tracking from detection and notification, through resolution and reporting.

“Improved communication, shared information and enhanced support provide more reliable and consistent outcomes with automated, as well as secure and accurate, tracking and reporting.”

Automation has also changed the way incident response operates in recent years.

“The beauty with today’s incident response, as opposed to it just being guided, is we can automate tasks based on the guidance of the operator,” says Labrecque of Genetec. “We can automatically dispatch to the group that requires help. So automation is playing a big role in today’s response.”

Datyelian says that in the past, incident response was seen as a solution for monitoring stations or first responders, and while mass notification was possible, it was almost always a manual process.

“Our goal has been to make use of improved technologies to provide the people in a critical event the ability to be the first responders themselves, and deal with an emerging issue before it becomes too large and costly,” Datyelian says. “Today, with our InSite critical management solution, an organization can use our rules engine to have many of these actions automated, improving response speed and expanding their reach to their people. … In this way, our automation saves critical seconds when those seconds count the most.”

For example, if an end user presses the InSite panic button from their mobile device, it can automatically initiate a lockdown, PA announcements, strobe activation, first responder notifications, location technology and more.

With all of this progress also comes greater awareness of the importance of having a strong incident response plan.

“Over the last several years, the private sector has certainly realized how critical an organized and efficient response is to dealing with a crisis,” says ADT’s Fowler. “The continued instances of workplace violence, the proliferation of active shooting incidents and an increasing need to manage environmental crises highlights the need for businesses to have a structured incident response framework.”

Still, there is a ways to go before every building has a structured way to keep its occupants safe.

“I see a hopefully near future in which there are minimum standards, regulations and certifications that must be met in order to market a product as a gunshot detection device or system,” Connors says. “We are already seeing gunshot detection becoming a part of a building spec at the design phase, which is excellent progress, but the next step is to ensure these systems are held to the highest possible standards and become mandated like smoke and fire alarms, which would benefit all first responders.”


Best Practices

If you want to start offering incident response for your customers, the most important first step is to thoroughly educate yourself, says J. Matthew Ladd, president of the Protection Bureau, Exton, Pa.

“There are a lot of classes that need to be taken to make sure you’re knowledgeable, because you could actually cause harm if you do it incorrectly,” he says. “We’ve taken Jerry Wilkins’ class on incident reporting, and even had Jerry come in to talk to some of our clients about what needs to get done. FEMA also has a lot of online classes. This should not be looked at as a new product line — this is different.”

Advantech employees have also taken Jerry Wilkins’ classes on incident response, as well as other training courses. And since moving into a new office 19 months ago, they have a comprehensive emergency response plan for their own employees.

“First and foremost, we have to drink our own Kool-Aid, and practice what we preach,” Sweeney says. “That has been phenomenally impactful not only on morale and safety and the buy-in of our team, but it’s also been pretty helpful to our staff who talk through these scenarios with our customers, because they have real-world experience implementing the process in their own work environment.”

Often, Advantech will even invite customers to their headquarters to check out the equipment themselves.

“We consider ourselves the subject matter experts for electronic security for our customers,” Sweeney continues. “..Let us do the work so you don’t have to worry about it.”

Once customers choose what incident response plan they would like to put in place, it’s important to make sure they then do drills actually using the technology.

“All our customers have a tremendous amount of technology that can be extremely valuable in terms of response, but if they don’t plan on drilling it, they won’t use it when the time comes,” Sweeney says. “In an emergency event, you will fall to your lowest level of training. If you’re not implementing and training with technology as a part of the plan, it’s not going to be used.”

Wilkins says integrators should actually make it a point to attend their customers’ drills.

“I would like to see systems integrators actively involved with the emergency planning process,” Wilkins says. “They should be invited to the drills, so as the event is discussed, you can contextualize how you would utilize the technology.”

While educating your customers, it’s also important to listen to them, and truly consider what their individual needs are.

“Each system and each client are unique,” says Shaun Pace, general manager, Sonitrol of Western Kentucky, Louisville. “It is important that we spend time figuring out the clients’ needs, and the best solution to meet those needs. We spend a lot of time educating our clients on how we do things differently, which is why our customers average over 12 years with us.”

Even as a manufacturer, Shooter Detection Systems takes an active role in the planning process.

“We sell through a network of trained and certified Guardian integrators, and we work together with the customer to review floor plans and design a system that works best for their facility infrastructure, existing security systems and response procedures,” Connors says. “From there, installation is very straightforward.”

Marcella adds, “Incident response is all about the right planning, teams and tools. Therefore knowledge, relationships and innovation are essential. Accordingly, those seeking to get involved with incident response — or any area of security — should seek to build strategic partnerships with sister agencies, proven solution providers, trusted vendors and other experts who offer value through transparency, seamlessness and innovative ideas.”

While there are no solid regulations in place at the moment, a future where incident response plans are required by businesses doesn’t seem too far off. Even now, organizations can find themselves in legal trouble if a mass shooting or other incident proves fatal and they did not have strong response systems in place.

After the Parkland school shooting, for example, the victims’ families filed a lawsuit against the school alleging the school failed to perform the duty owed to its students: to provide adequate response to a shooting.

Several companies have even added language to their security filings warning investors about the possible financial impact of gun violence.

“Organizations of all sizes are increasingly responsible and liable for the safety, security, health and well-being of their employees, members and guests,” Datyelian says. “It is important when working in incident response to keep this as your focus. There was a time when people saw critical events as very unlikely to affect their organizations. Today, as a country, we have all faced issues from the COVID-19 incident. It is important to be proactive and not reactive about these issues. It is fantastic to have an emergency plan written out, but it is also necessary to have the tools to effectively implement that plan. Drill often and test your response to find ways to improve it.”

And the consequences for businesses that go without incident response aren’t only legal.

“The convergence around business continuity and incident response has been great to see, as the value of how an entity responds to major incidents has a massive impact in many ways, from employee and customer perspectives, to what gets posted on social media,” Connors says.

Labrecque also stresses the importance of the integrator’s role as a provider of incident response.

“Think outside the box,” he suggests. “Plan for the unplannable, challenge the customer process and test it, as sometimes people have a conceived idea of what would be the best thing to do, but may not see all the other options that can be offered. And take this seriously — some incident responses and processes may save lives. This is how important it is.”