Robins engineers team up, tackle active shooter challenge

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Precious minutes can feel as if they last a lifetime when lives are at stake. News of workplace violence involving an active shooter remain prevalent - Fort Hood in 2009, the Washington Navy Yard in 2013, Chattanooga in 2015, and most recently, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on April 8.

Giving first responders the quickest opportunity to help victims and apprehend a shooting suspect is critical.

Finding innovate ways to address these ongoing challenges was the focus of a 2015 Air Force Research Laboratory Commander's Challenge calling for submissions on ways to deal with an active shooter scenario.

A team of six officers from Robins Air Force Base, including 1st Lt. Evan Glowiak, Capt. Carlos Horner, 1st Lt. Daniel Gunderson, 1st Lt. Andrew Hyde, 1st Lt. Bruce Vonniederhausern, and Capt. Christopher Perrine from Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Alabama, volunteered for the challenge. 
Their particular solution involved sensors built into existing fire alarm systems - an active-shooter detection system that can assist law enforcement when the exact location of a shooter is unknown.

The team spent six months on the project, finishing their efforts before submitting their proposal and meeting with top Air Force officials this past March at the inaugural Defense, Diplomacy and Development Innovation Summit Pitch Challenge in Washington, D.C., where they won "Feasibility" and "Metrics" awards. 

They were one of six final teams selected from nearly 500 submissions from across the Department of State, the Department of Defense and U.S. Agency for International Development. The call for these submissions addressed ways the U.S. can leverage new technologies to advance its defense, diplomacy and development goals.

In the beginning, the team brainstormed ideas and researched past events, narrowing down the problem scope given to them by AFRL with a technical means of addressing the active shooter problem.

"We determined there wasn't any realistic potential to prevent these events from happening," said Perrine, Air Force Network Centrics Solutions acquisitions chief. "We decided to focus on trying to mitigate the severity of the damage and loss of life when they do occur."

Because fire alarms already automatically detect smoke, the thought was why not use that technology to develop sensors that can detect the sound of gunshots?
There can be a delay when calling 911, due to callers not knowing exactly where an active shooter is.

"Because we don't have that automatic detection in a gunshot emergency, there's a delay until someone calls 911," said Gunderson, an F-15 systems engineer. "But what we realized with a system like this is that no matter what, it can help. It can assist first responders letting them know where the most recent shot was no matter what someone may say on the phone."

Glowiak, a Special Operations Forces Personnel Recovery structural engineer, gave a description of how the system would work.

"You have the sensor tied into the fire alarm with microphones in the sensor box. It picks up a short auditory signal, going through a microprocessor which filters out false positives," said Glowiak.

"From there it relays the information to a fire alarm control panel, with the signal usually going over radio frequency to a fire or police station. They're automatically notified of the exact building and room number," he said.

"Another thing that happens simultaneously is the lock down alarm is sounded so everyone is aware and can take defensive measures," said Horner, a Special Operations Forces weapons engineer.

Added Perrine, "We intentionally created a very simple system so it could be affordable and reliable."

Assisting with developing the system's signal processing was the Mercer Engineering Research Center. Testing was conducted at the Guardian Centers in Perry, and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana.

Ongoing development on the system is taking place at the AFRL.

"This has been an amazing project," said Horner. "Innovation can be simple. If you have a dedicated team working on a single goal, great things can happen."

Gunderson agreed. "Don't be afraid to bring up a good idea because you never know what it can spark and where it can go."

Editor's Note: To view a presentation about the team's active shooter detection system, visit d3-innovation-summit-part-2.