By Stephen Bryen
The horrible shooting in Las Vegas at a country music festival that claimed 58 lives and wounded more than 500 tells us clearly there is something wrong with how we make concerts, public spaces, sports events, clubs and buildings — including places of worship — secure. Not only did an apparently lone gunman shoot from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel across the street, but it took police some time before they were able to locate him. When his door was blown open the SWAT team found him dead, an apparent suicide.
We still do not know the motive behind the shooting. While the police say they don’t think the shooter, Stephen Paddock, was linked to international or domestic terrorist groups, it is also true that the Islamic State had this past May called for terrorist action in Las Vegas. The group says the shooter was a recent convert to Islam and one of their “soldiers,” but have provided no proof as yet.
But motive does not matter much when bullets are screaming by, taking lives. Nor does motive matter to police and law enforcement when they try to shut down such a killer.
In the Las Vegas case, we know that the shooter was heavily armed and was able to reload his weapons a number of times. This tells us the first information we must pay attention to: The crucial issue in any active shooter situation is time. The longer it takes to neutralize a shooter, the more the shooter can kill.
The second problem is to locate the shooter. If the shooter is inside a building, the problem is difficult, because law enforcement has to work in space that is unfamiliar. In the case of the Mandalay Bay hotel, the police had to go room to room until they found Paddock. That took too much time.
Steps must be taken to try and prevent an active shooter from getting into a public space, but if a shooter gets in, means must be at hand to locate the shooter as quickly as possible and direct law enforcement to his sniper’s nest.
For the past three years I have been working as a mentor to Eran Jedwab, an Israeli inventor who now is here in the United States. In his experience installing surveillance systems in Israel, he saw that surveillance systems alone are not enough to improve the chances of neutralizing an active shooter.
Many buildings in the United States have security systems, as do most casinos in a place such as Las Vegas. The government has also put cameras around important buildings, and some churches and synagogues have them too. But even where these systems are in place, they have little worth during the most dramatic moments when a threat is detected or an active shooter has penetrated a space. Camera systems are of little immediate help by themselves.
Now based in Baltimore, Jedwab and his Jedvice company have developed a means to turn existing camera and sensor systems into a proactive, real time, immersive system that can ride with law enforcement in the form of mobile devices and orient law enforcement to a shooter’s location. The effect is to provide much more usable information to police than a passive camera system, and to get them on track almost immediately.
Of course this is not a complete solution by itself, but as a bolt-on solution to existing systems it offers tangible advantages. It makes it possible for law enforcement to rapidly isolate a shooter, thereby saving lives; and it gives police eyes on a target so the risk to them is less than it would otherwise be.
In November 2015 at the Bataclan theater in Paris, terrorists killed 89 people. The police — there were hundreds of them on the scene — were blind, and did not know how to find the shooters. As a result they delayed storming the building, which is the main reason the death toll was a high as it was. In June 2016 in Orlando, Fla., a single shooter killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub. In this situation, police were again blind and precious time was lost.
It is clear we are far behind in protecting ourselves and that existing security systems are inadequate. Most of the technology in use is old and has only been upgraded around the periphery. But by modernizing these old systems, a lot can be gained at very little cost.
Israel’s experience in the use of technology and inventors like Jedwab point the way to cutting down the time it takes to reduce the damage caused by terror and criminal incidents.
Stephen Bryen, a senior fellow at the American Center for Democracy, was a staff director for the Near East Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a deputy undersecretary of defense and executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.