Tough Topic: Making Restaurants Safer

In recent years, the restaurant and bar industry has undergone major education from law enforcement officials on how to respond to active shooters, with a consensus forming around the basic idea of “Run, Hide & Fight.” Combined with well-rehearsed plans and specific emergency duties for individual employees, this relatively simple safety advice can save both employee and customer lives through preparation. 

What the guidance can’t do, however, is speed up the crucial step of delivering accurate and complete information on the active shooter situation to local law enforcement and emergency responders. Police departments are considered the first line of tactical action against armed suspects, but they can’t simply rush into a building, guns blazing.  Copious amounts of information are required before officers can make an effective entrance and apprehend or confront a suspect. 

With an advanced, affordable gunfire detection system deployed throughout bars and restaurants, these public spaces can automatically and immediately send local authorities a full report on the situation. Depending on the gunfire detection system used, it may include how many shooters there are, how many shots have been fired, the number and type of weapons being used, and most importantly where the shooter currently is inside the building. The best systems also provide mobile apps with real-time updating, so police have fully up-to-date information on the shooter(s)’ position whether they are at the police station or at the restaurant’s front door.

Adding to the concern, the documented COVID-19-induced spike in firearm sales only adds to the concern. NBC News recently reported that gun sales and federal background checks rose to an all-time high in March, with the FBI conducting 3.7 million background checks, the highest total since the background check system was launched in 1998 and 1.1 million higher than the number conducted in March 2019.

The combination of rapidly increasing gun sales and the emergence of Covid-19-related mental health concerns means that restaurant owners and operators must take all available steps to enhance the safety and security of their buildings.  

How Active Shooter Events Unfold

In recent years, the conversation around active shooters has turned from prevention to mitigation, focusing on the ability of law enforcement to respond quickly and effectively to neutralize an armed suspect and save lives. As every active shooter is a highly volatile and fluid situation, one of the most important actions a restaurant/bar can take is to provide as much information as possible to law enforcement so police can arrive on scene and take safe, decisive action.

Not much data is available on restaurant-specific active shooter events, but the similar scenario of U.S. school shootings over the past 30 years has been well-studied* and documented, including police response time. On average, it takes:

  • Five minutes for 911 to be alerted to an active shooter
  • 13 minutes for police to arrive on site
  • 20-30 minutes for police to interview witnesses, assess the situation and determine an entry plan
  • Seven to eight minutes to confront the shooter

Adding those minutes up shows us the staggering reality: in active shooter situations, police may require 45-50 minutes before they can actually identify, locate and apprehend a suspect. When lives are on the line, every available measure to reduce that time frame must be considered.

Saving Seconds Saves Lives

In an active shooter situation, police are expected to take decisive action and neutralize the shooter(s), but their actions can only be effective if they are provided with accurate, real-time information.

To aid law enforcement’s fight against active shooters, innovative technology companies have developed powerful gunfire detection systems to greatly reduce the time required to apprehend suspect(s). Among the newly available tools, the most important capability is automatic delivery of gunfire data to police that can eliminate several steps of the timeline explained above, including the 5-minute police alert delay.

As an information gathering device, gunfire detection systems may be unrivaled in their power and speed. Some gunfire detection systems use multiple sensors to recognize that a gun has been fired, including concussion sensors, audio triggers and spectrometers that compare suspicious sounds and bright flashes against vast libraries of real gunfire signatures. In a cloud-based system, the small gunfire detectors are placed in ceiling corners in restaurant lobbies, bars, and dining rooms, and gunfire information is immediately sent to a server for verification, then delivered to local authorities in a detailed report – all within a few seconds. 

Specifically, the identification of individual firearm types is a major benefit for law enforcement, allowing them to prepare and plan for the specific threat they must face, including what protective equipment they need. A shooter with a high caliber semi-automatic rifle may require a different approach than a shooter with a handgun. In addition to helping protect officers and ensure a successful operation, this knowledge further reduces the police’s timeline by eliminating or reducing the need to interview on-site witnesses. When combined, the advantages provided by intelligent gunfire detection systems can cut up to 25 minutes off the total police engagement time from shots fired to suspect apprehension.

The Best Tool for the Job

Using the technological tools available today, restaurant and bar operators across the United States can help law enforcement safely apprehend suspects faster and save more lives during active shooter events. Weighed against other solutions, gunfire detection systems are the only option that shorten the law enforcement response timeline. A number of companies currently market gunfire detection systems, with varying prices and capabilities. Safe Zone’s gunfire detection system provides a robust combination of features at a cost up to 90 percent less than competing systems.   

If restaurant/bar owners and law enforcement agencies recognize the power and value of gunfire detection systems, our nation can make great strides in reducing the casualties from the next active shooter event.

*Data from “The Police Response to Active Shooter Incidents” from Washington DC Police Executive Research Forum, March 2014