EXCLUSIVE: Evolution and adaption in weapons detection

AI - used for weapons detection

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Bill Frain, CEO of Liberty Defense tells SJA how weapons detection can move beyond just metal detection, to mitigate new threats.

Can you start with a broad introduction to the current state of the weapons detection sector?

Weapons detection is a central component of security screening operations.

It has become increasingly topical in recent times given rising terrorism and political instability, increased frequency of mass shootings, record levels of gun sales and the proliferation of novel threats like 3D-printed plastic guns.

It goes beyond just conventional weapons as we have seen perpetrators employing more sophisticated methods to evade detection by using explosive materials made up of liquids, powders, gels and other threats that can elude conventional metal detectors.

The demand for weapons detection systems has also begun to significantly expand to more types of properties including corporate offices, entertainment venues, places of worship, prisons and correctional facilities and even more, well beyond traditional locations such as airports.

There is a pressing need for innovative, comprehensive and practical weapons detection solutions suitable for diverse settings to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals and communities.

How have the types of threats evolved in recent years?

As metal detection has played such a central role in weapons detection for decades, offenders have adapted and we have seen the number of non-metal threats proliferate.

Sharp, blunt and explosive objects can now be crafted from a range of diverse materials including plastic, ceramic, glass and more.

Furthermore, the emergence of widely accessible 3D-printing technology further complicates this scenario, allowing for the uncontrolled production of operational firearms from plastic or composite materials.

These firearms are often referred to as “ghost guns” and are not only unregistered but also able to be created by anyone, without a background check.

Powders and liquids present an additional concern, as these substances are also able to elude metal detectors and can have explosive or toxic properties.

Due to this, the security industry has been forced to adapt.

However, the good news is that we are seeing truly exciting innovations coming to market that incorporate advanced 3D imaging, explosive detection, AI and much more.

These have the potential to not only keep people much safer but also improve the experience of security screening as well.

How do you anticipate the role of metal detectors changing?

Metal detectors, a staple in security for over 50 years, have historically proven to be highly effective in detecting weapons, but with the evolution of so many diverse threats, as well as the prevalence of electronics like phones, wearables and laptops, their utility has diminished significantly.

We’ve seen smart metal detectors come to market in recent years that incorporate AI to improve detection, but their scope of use is still limited to metal targets.

I believe that the next generation of detection will rely more on radio frequency, or millimeter-wave technology, proven in security applications.

Unlike exclusive reliance on magnetic fields, this technology enables the detection of both metal and non-metal items.

Utilizing millimeter-wave also allows for the collection of a greater number of data points, facilitating the creation of real-time 3D radar images.

AI and deep-learning algorithms can then distinguish potential threats, both metal and non-metal, while identifying and disregarding items such as keys, wallets and mobile phones.

This significantly boosts detection capabilities and streamlines the screening process because it eliminates the need for divestment of benign items.

It is clear that AI can be used to improve detection capabilities, but how might AI also then impact the role of security staff?

The integration of AI has the potential to transform the role of security staff in a very positive way.

AI technology offers the advantage of reducing false alarms, minimizing the need for extensive pat-downs and enhancing the efficiency of security operations.

By providing security professionals with better information and tools, AI empowers them to perform their jobs more effectively, ensuring a more accurate and streamlined screening process.

Improved visual analytics and sensor technologies allow security personnel to see and analyze data more quickly and comprehensively, reducing the need for exhaustive physical inspections.

Furthermore, AI-based systems operate without the same inherent bias that humans can have, eliminating subjective judgment calls and promoting fairness in security assessments.

Ultimately, the positive impact of AI in security not only enhances the capabilities of security staff but also contributes to a more reliable, efficient and equitable security environment.

In which sectors are we seeing these changes the most?

The rapid adoption of advanced weapons detection solutions is most pronounced, unsurprisingly, in sectors where heightened security is paramount.

High-security buildings, prisons, correctional facilities, government facilities and national laboratories are leading the way, recognizing the imperative of robust protection against evolving threats.

Ports of entry, including major airports, are also at the forefront of embracing advanced detection technologies, particularly in response to a surge in TSA confiscations of firearms and drugs.

Acknowledging existing gaps and the potential for explosive incidents, many sectors are also now prioritizing a layered protection approach by adding screening at their perimeters.

Employee screening initiatives, mandated by the federal government for major airports across the US by April 2026, underscore the commitment to comprehensive security measures within the aviation industry.

Beyond airports, other sectors adopting advanced weapons detection solutions include sports and entertainment venues, universities, schools, places of worship and shopping malls.

The diverse range of sectors highlights a growing recognition of the need for advanced security measures in various environments to safeguard individuals and assets against emerging threats.

Bill Frain

Bill Frain is CEO of Liberty Defense, which offers security technology solutions for the detection of concealed weapons.

This includes HEXWAVE, a walkthrough portal capable of detecting metal, non-metal and other novel threats, as well as technologies advancing aviation security including HD-AIT and a millimeter wave shoe scanner.

This article on executive protection was originally published in the December edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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