AI Weapon Detection Cameras Can Be Good, But Don’t Solve The Problem Alone

A recent story from USA Today gives us some good news for school security. A company that makes AI software that can identify weapons is giving copies away to schools. But, there are some important limitations that we must keep in mind for this technology.

First off, let’s talk about what this technology does and does not do.

Basically, the software needs to be fed frames of video from an existing or new camera system. When it receives the frames, it uses artificial neural networks to look for guns that look like the guns in the training data the networks were trained on. When frames of video are found by the system to have a high probability of containing a gun, the system sends out an alert of some kind, perhaps by text message or through the activation of an alarm.

Limitations and The Need For Planning

There are some limits to what the system can do. One thing the system does not do is tell you with 100% certainty whether there’s really a gun in the camera feeds. It also cannot tell you if someone has a concealed weapon, as concealed weapons will not appear in a video feed at all. Most importantly, the system does not respond to the presence of a firearm beyond sending an alert or activating an alarm.

Given these limitations, any facility using it must integrate it into a reasonable emergency plan to get the most out of the system. Several things need to happen in the plan:

  • A human needs to either check the feed manually or go to where the gun was seen to verify that there is actually a gun, because the software could be wrong.
  • Only after verification by a human can some action be taken, but action must be taken.
  • Any action taken must be lawful, reasonable, and fast. A lawfully-possessed gun or a person not threatening anybody with the gun must be treated differently than an active shooter. People cannot be shot for mere possession or detained for lawful behavior.
  • A plan for how to do this and what to do next must be in place. You cannot receive an alert about a gun and then expect to be able to plan a good response on the fly.

It’s also important to note that the camera system will not see all guns. Artificial neural networks are not perfect, and will generate both false negatives and false positives. Concealed weapons will also not be seen. So, a facility using this technology must not assume that it will see them all.

How The System Can Be Extremely Valuable

With a reasonable plan and an understanding of the limitations, such a system can be pretty valuable. It isn’t perfect, and it won’t do the whole job by itself, but it does greatly increase situational awareness. This is discussed a lot more in the Civil Defense Library, but in short, a camera system that can look out for potential hazards greatly enhances a facility’s OODA loop.

There’s no reasonable way for a person to watch dozens of cameras and see everything. Most facilities (especially schools) can’t afford to pay several people to watch camera feeds on top of normal security patrolling. So, having a system that alerts security personnel or the owner of a small business to a possible problem makes a big improvement for cheap (or almost free for schools).

It also ventures into the Orient part of the loop, providing part of the analysis. This helps the loop move much faster, leading to action. When seconds count, stopping something like an active shooter can save many lives.

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