Can the police be notified quickly — and the people inside a building warned — when an active shooter fires a gun?
That's the challenge an Air Force team tackled in a government competition to find inventive solutions to problems.
Called the "Defense, Diplomacy, and Development Innovation Summit Pitch Challenge," or "D3 Innovation Summit" for short, it's a collaboration between the Defense Department, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Active Shooter Protection team was one of two groups of airmen who were selected out of 500 submissions to come to Washington, D.C. in March for the inaugural event and present their ideas before top leaders from all three agencies.
A group of airmen from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., Georgia, decided to focus on ways to respond to an active shooter situation.
With incidents ranging from the Navy Yard in D.C. in 2013 to the Chattanooga and San Bernardino attacks in 2015, there's been a high number of public shootings in recent years.
First Lieutenants Evan Glowiak, Carlos Horner, Bruce von Neiderhausern, Dan Gunderson, and Andrew Hyde joined with Capt. Chris Perrine from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., to see what they could do to tackle the problem.
"We were attempting to develop a technology that would prevent, mitigate, and track active shooter threats on Air Force and military bases," Gunderson said. "We did a lot of background research on past events in order to find where the technology could really make an impact."
The group decided to focus in on a warning system that would detect when shots were fired.
"Detecting, notifying, law enforcement and people in the building as fast as possible was the best," Gunderson said. "In situations like this, time matters, seconds matter, seconds save lives."
The team came up with an audio detection system that registers the sound of a gunshot, and can then trigger warnings both inside the building and out to emergency responders.
"We looked at the big picture characteristics of a fire alarm system and we realized we are much better at responding to fire emergency than violent emergencies," Perrine said.
So the team mimicked a smoke detector's ability to sense fires, except this time the device can detect gunshots.
"It has three pretty basic microphones in there that are hooked up to a microprocessor," explained Glowiak.
He said the microprocessor checks the characteristics of the sound to detect if it was a gunshot as opposed to a different loud noise such as a door slamming.
"That filters out a bunch of false positives," he said. "We ran it through a bunch of tests with typical office noise."
The end result of the calculation is a positive or negative on whether a gunshot has been fired.
"There's no open microphone, there's no worry about people listening in on the office environment," Glowiak said.
The team built more than a dozen of the devices for testing and demonstration.
Perrine said the idea came from the Air Force Research Laboratory's Commander's Challenge, which tasked airmen with looking at the active shooter situation. After participating in that, the group decided to enter into the D3 Innovation Summit as well.
At the competition in the nation's capital, the team won the "Metrics" and "Feasibility" awards for their project.
The gunshot detection can be integrated with current fire systems, the team said, and estimated that installing it into a building would only cost 25 cents per square foot of coverage on top of the estimated $5 to $7 for smoke alarm coverage.
Unfortunately the team said they haven't found the support they need to continue development of the project. They're hoping someone in the government will identify the technology as something that's needed for office buildings, so they can secure the support and funding to make the idea a reality.
Horner said working on the project gave him an appreciation for the large impact that can come from changing one or two things.
"Innovation can be simple," he said. "It doesn't have to be complicated to get a good result."
Hyde echoed the comment, saying diving in to the D3 challenge helped him realize "how important innovation is across all departments."
"Whether it's active shooter or cheaply printing buildings for forward bases, it's important to remember how applicable and necessary innovation is," he said.
Later, Air Force Times will bring you the story of the second group of airmen, who focused on cheap and easy ways to 3D print buildings that could include hardened structures for bases or housing for refugees.