WiFi connect smartphones and computers to the internet — but it could also help pinpoint where a gunman is before a mass shooting.
First Responder Technologies, a B.C.-based tech company, is developing a product that uses WiFi it says may help locate concealed weapons and prevent terrorist threats.
The company claims to secure the interior and exterior of public spaces and buildings by extending detection to the perimeter of a property, covertly detecting threats as they approach vulnerable targets and warning law enforcement and local security of a potential active shooter on premises.
“All we’re doing is hoping to get a magic 10-15 seconds, so that the on-site security officer or police officer get the alert and they can do something about it,” said First Responder Technologies CEO anddirector Robert Delamar.
“Whether that’s something as simple as locking a door or interdicting the shooter.”
Imagine two dark-coloured fence posts, inconspicuous to the public and bad guys, which act as a WiFi antenna transmitter and receiver. A minimum of two posts — more for large areas daisy-chained — would have to be installed around the perimeter of a public place, such as a parking lot.
These posts, a few metres apart, create an “invisible mesh” with the signals pinging back and forth with WiFi speeds ranging from 2.4 GHz to 60 GHz. When a person walks through the signal, the patent-pending technology is able to detect metals of certain sizes and the AI behind it will recognize long guns and knives (though currently not explosives) and determine if it could be a threat.
If that is the case, the system then allows for more invasive surveillance. It will either activate a camera installed in the fence post or nearby CCTV to confirm the identity of the person isn’t someone who should be lawfully carrying a gun, like a police officer.
“The AI we use is trained to tell the difference between a shooter and a good person. There’s also tagging technologies that you can utilize to tell friendlies from bad guys,” said Delamar. “Rather than having full-time surveillance and invading their privacy, what this system allows you to do is activate a probable cause tripwire.”
In milliseconds, the system then fires off an alert to the laptops or smartphones of security on-site or to police.
The patent-pending prototype will begin alpha-testing in May in Canada, the U.K. and U.S. The company is working with New Jersey’s Rutgers University to continue research on the technology.
Former federal public safety minister Stockwell Day is a head advisor on the project.
The company was founded in 2017 by retired RCMP officer Kal Malhi, who wanted to reduce the number of mass shootings. The company saw gaps in technology and security in public spaces and wanted to give security enforcement — cops, security guards, school principals and teachers — that crucial 10-15 seconds it takes for a gunman to run beyond the perimeter of a place to “cause mayhem” in order to stop it.
Delamar said right now, public places — such as stadiums, shopping centres, government buildings schools and places of worship — are open targets for mass shootings.
In 2014, Corp. Nathan Cirillo was fatally shot by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau during a terrorist attack at Ottawa’s Parliament Hill. Delamar said if the First Responder Technologies system was in place, the posts would have been set up around the National War Memorial.
“When that terrorist ran through those posts, there would have been identification of a human being with a weapon and that would have set off the alarm if it was a person that wasn’t authorized to have a weapon in the area, certainly before he got to the building door,” he said. “If you think of the lawn on Parliament Hill, that’s a perfect example of the 10-15 seconds.”
When the alarm sounds, it could be used in conjunction with existing lockdown security systems — at schools, for example.
Delamar doesn’t believe the fence posts should replace conventional detection of x-ray machines or millimetre waves, such as body scan machines found in airports — which are used to see metal, plastics, ceramics, chemical material and explosives — but those measures usually come at a big cost.
Delamar said a pair of fence posts is priced below $10,000 and because WiFi is unregulated, there are fewer regulatory barriers to make them widely available to the public.
Yet, the big concern with any tech surveillance system is the issue of privacy.
Delamar said the technology respects privacy by only scanning for metal objects without intercepting any images of people or collecting personal data.
“Absolutely, we’re monitoring it, but not personal information. We’re looking for dangerous objects,” he said. “Wifi is good at detecting metal. It is not as good for higher resolution frequency for imaging.”
Security expert Matt Torigian, the former Ontario deputy minister of community safety, said FRT’s prototype is an interesting concept, but more studies need to be done to make sure it’s used “in a way that’s consistent with the expectations of the public.”
“I think there will be a number of public institutions that will want to look into this further,” he said.
“The worst thing is having it taken away because it you used it improperly. That’s what we’re beginning to see with facial recognition. It’s a fabulous tool, but then why has San Francisco and some European communities startied to ban it?”
Ontario Association of the Chiefs of Police spokesman Joe Couto said they’re careful to endorse any product because of privacy and accountability to the public and how it impacts how their officers do their jobs “because ultimately, they’re held responsible for decisions they make.”
The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario Brian Beamish cautioned government organizations, including police services, should be skeptical of the claims made by companies pushing their technology as the solution to complex problems.
“Extra skepticism should be exercised about claims that these law enforcement panaceas will have no impact on personal privacy,” he said.
“Police services must also be convinced that technology provides a legitimate solution to a recognizable problem. I note that the companies in your email appear to rely on American marketing materials regarding the need to combat concealed weapons. The unique context of concealed weapons in the United States does not necessary translate to the Canadian experience.”
It’s too early to tell if sports complexes would be open to installing this kind of tech.
Charzie Abendanio, spokesman for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the owner of Scotiabank Arena, said it would not be “appropriate to comment on a security policy question with little information or analysis at this stage.”
As for the argument that society needs less surveillance and better gun control, Delamar said it’s not an either/or as a solution.
“The Bataclan in Paris, for example. Those were mass murderers who acquired firearms and had nothing to do with the gun control debate,” he said. “It was about someone got a gun and was intent on causing harm. We don’t want to get into the politics of gun control.”
First Responder Technologies is still seeking investors after raising $4.8 million for its initial public offering. It began trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange last month.
“This is a new security paradigm,” Delamar said.
“We want to live in a world where we’re not living in a full-time, always on surveillance state. We think this is the happy medium…having security in a democracy.”
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