SP&T News

Understanding gunshot detection

March 5, 2024  By Yanik Brunet

Image: Reinhard Krull/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Much like its neighbour to the south, Canada has been subject to a growing number of deaths involving firearms.

Statistics Canada reports that homicides linked to shootings showed a five to seven per cent increase year-on-year from 2018 to 2021. The year 2022 however, was a different story as the rate jumped 15 per cent over 2021.

And while the number of firearm-related violent crimes represents only 2.8 per cent of police-reported violent crime in Canada (based on 2020 StatCan data), security professionals would be well served to understand what technologies are available to mitigate the impact of a gun violence event.

Send critical information to first responders

Law enforcement will begin their search at the last reported location of an assailant. But when gun violence event occurs, relying on bystanders or employees to call emergency services can lead to confusion and delays — delays that give the assailant more time to spread violence and possibly escape the scene.


The value of gunshot detection systems is that security and law enforcement can automatically receive real-time, accurate gun violence location and tracking data during a period of intense confusion and panic.

How gunshot detection works

Gunshot detection starts with the sensor. Outdoor detection solutions typically rely on specially calibrated microphones mounted on buildings or utility poles to locate the acoustic signature of a gunshot.

Multiple sensors are required as triangulation is used. Indoor gunshot detection sensors will also use acoustic detection, but they should not require triangulation and their components are calibrated differently to compensate for the different acoustical patterns that occur in a building.

High-quality indoor gunshot detection sensors should use dual-mode verification. This involves capturing and evaluating the two physical signals of a firearm discharge: the muzzle flash or infrared signal and the acoustic signal. An alert is only sent if these two characteristics are verified. Outdoor systems may not have this capability.

Best-in-class gunshot detection sensor offerings will provide customers with the highest level of detection accuracy and manufacturers should offer independent third-party testing to demonstrate quality.

It can be difficult for customers to envision the true financial and psychological cost of a false alert until they have one at their school or business. Trying to save money by selecting an inferior sensor can create enraged customers who, at a minimum, may suddenly find themselves facing reputational, employee or public relations issues. But the sensor is just the start.

Out-of-the-box, gunshot detection systems must also provide a means to communicate and display the sensor’s data in a way that is both easy to see and distribute. Software that provides visual tracking as well as text and email capabilities are now standard.

When covering large buildings or organizations with multiple buildings across different campuses, a “breadcrumb trail” of information that can be sent to first responders is invaluable. These systems should also seamlessly integrate this information with the customer’s other security technologies.

Choosing an experienced vendor with certified integrations with leading access control, VMS or mass notification solutions reduces project risk and allows the dealer to focus more on working with the customer to develop and deliver what they really need: a fully autonomous, preprogrammed response to a gun violence event.

Assessing solutions

While dealers may not have time to thoroughly assess a security product, service providers should allocate some time to investigate the technical approach employed by the manufacturer. As previously noted, reputable gunshot detectors should provide third-party testing results to showcase their ability to detect gunfire across various conditions while maintaining the lowest possible false alert rate.

Certifications from federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s SAFETY Act program, are also a strong signal of product excellence. To obtain a “red seal” of SAFETY Act approval (a Certified product, as opposed to Designated, or a Developmental Testing and Evaluation/DT&E) a manufacturer must be able to produce not only test data, but also supply several verifiable customer references with installations dating back two years or more.

What’s more, to stay on the SAFETY Act registry, the renewal process is extensive, which is why it is not uncommon to see technologies with expired designations on the DHS website. Renewal is a six to 12 month process requiring new test data and follow-ups with customers to gauge the product’s performance in the field from an end-user perspective.

Gunshot detection is not new and when looking at the landscape of gunshot detection providers you will see that many have come to market and then vanished. Dealers should perform rigorous due diligence on both the company’s standing in the industry and the core technology in use.

For example, does the sensor incorporate acoustics with additional technology to help reduce false alerts? If not, are there environments where the technology will not work well or is it excluding any types of ammunition from detection?

Furthermore, collaborating with a manufacturer with a track record of assisting diverse industry verticals — such as enterprise, federal, and education — ensures that the support team associated with the product can adeptly navigate resellers through each Request for Proposal (RFP) and contribute to their success when securing contracts.

There is valuable information locked away in the minds of the sales engineers of leading manufacturers and they should be available to help dealers design a cost-effective solution and reduce potential project headaches. Ultimately, leading manufacturers can offer valuable insights from past projects, instilling confidence with end users.

Certain dealers may worry that gunshot detection solutions are exclusively tailored for “high-end” clients and might not be financially feasible for smaller customers. Manufacturers are cognizant of this, and dealers should not hesitate to ask — once the project’s scope has been established — if there are discounts available for clients such as schools and nonprofits.

There is a common misconception in the marketplace that a lot of sensors are needed to protect a building or campus. This is not the case. In most cases, only a few key areas, like entry ways, cafeterias, or main hallways need to be monitored. SDS, for example, recommends starting out with just a few sensors and then expanding only as needed once the customer becomes more familiar with the technology and can see its benefits.

Recurring revenue for dealers

Dealers may not be aware of this, but gunshot detection systems can provide a recurring revenue opportunity. As with fire alarm systems, gunshot detection systems should be tested at least once a year. And while reputable manufacturers offer sensors that report malfunctions or tampering immediately to their monitoring systems, an annual testing or maintenance contract should be part of every dealer’s sales agreement.

Having a gunshot detection system installed on-site enables the dealer to initiate a security assessment conversation from a unique perspective. For instance, has the client undergone a recent security audit? If yes, what were the audit’s recommendations concerning an active shooter situation? Simple questions like these can open the door for a more holistic discussion to addressing security threats — and showcase the dealer’s advanced service offerings and expertise.

Educate and advise your customers

Legislation, education and deterrence are all tools to reduce the availability of illegal firearms and give pause to those that want to commit gun violence. Unfortunately, each of these valuable tools is subject to fluctuations in funding, changes in political climate and the creativity of criminals.

As security professionals, we are all familiar with the concept of defence in depth or using a layered approach to security. We know that there is no one tool or protocol that will keep everyone safe from a specific threat 100 per cent of the time. Gunshot detection is a mature, reliable, life safety technology that can mitigate the impact of a gun violence event.

Yanik Brunet is the vice-president of global sales for Shooter Detection Systems (www.shooterdetectionsystems.com).

Print this page


Stories continue below