What is Autonomous Threat Detection?

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Written By: J. Lasswell
January 31, 2023

While this emerging technology is still relatively unknown, its threat-detection capabilities are going to be the future of school security.

It becomes clear that when relative to human life, every second is crucial and cannot be wasted, so the only acceptable threat detection solution is the one that reacts immediately and accurately - anything less results in a vulnerable system.

The future of comprehensive security relies on two main principles: decreasing the amount of time between the start of an incident to when the critical response is administered, and preemptively identifying threats and hazards before an incident occurs. The failures we’ve seen in school security in the previous years have been on account of either an ineffective response, a failure to identify danger, or both. A comprehensive solution to emergency management on campus will account for both of these factors.

Enter Autonomous Threat Detection (ATD). ATD has applications that will be relevant in all aspects of future security, but it’s not a term people are familiar with currently. Rather than an in-depth inquiry into the tech specifications or scholarly articles (admittedly, this is the only information available online), this will be a look at the practical elements of ATD and how it can be applied to schools.

Defining Autonomous Threat Detection 

The idea of threat detection is simple; where most schools use the human senses to identify threats and call upon first responders, schools with threat detection systems use different technologies to identify hazards and threats within their campus, making it easier for first responders to effectively triage and respond to the threat. So what does “Autonomous” mean? “Autonomous” comes from the greek autonomos -  autos meaning “self” + nomos meaning “law”.  Simply put, ATD is a threat detection system that governs itself; whether it’s detecting threats, or following a subject via camera, ATD systems are designed to work without the interaction of a human. ATD has also been referred to as “AI Threat Detection,” but we find this term doesn’t represent the process well enough.

Why does this matter? Does a lack of human intervention have any negative connotations? Currently, when AI is brought up in conversation, there seems to be a misconception that allowing these systems a modicum of authority will result in the cyber apocalypse. In reality, these systems use this AI tech to get information to relevant people seamlessly and accurately, in the quickest time possible - and that’s where the authority stops. The autonomous systems utilized by Drift Net products don’t make decisions regarding your security protocol, they just react to detection with information. The recipients of the alerts are customizable by the admin, meaning every action within the process is made with careful consideration from school leadership. So why do we even need an AI to detect and alert if humans ultimately make the decisions? 

Consider this: the shooting at Sandy Hook in 2012 lasted less than 5 minutes from the first shot to the police response and 26 people were killed. Hypothetically, that could have been one victim every 11 seconds. When it comes to a critical incident (especially a shooting), it’s a misstep to rely on a human to react instantly and accurately. Often panic sets in, mistakes are made and time isn’t used effectively. If we want our security to be “comprehensive” as many companies claim, we can’t solely rely on human reaction to potentially determine life or death.  It becomes clear that when relative to human life, every second is crucial and cannot be wasted, so the only acceptable threat detection solution is the one that reacts immediately and accurately - anything less results in a vulnerable system.

How is ATD used in a school?

Drift Net’s autonomous threat detection tech is utilized in the KnowWhere Campus Safety System to rapidly detect weapons, threats, natural hazards, and more. But how does a piece of hardware do something as nuanced as differentiate a student holding a gun from a student holding a gun-shaped piece of bread? The answer lies in the technology’s ability to learn - when the system was being developed, magnitudes of data were used to train the AI to understand the details of various weapons and threatening behavior. The key to the effectiveness of the system is the amount of data being used to train the AI; the more data provided, the more accurately the system can identify threats and hazards. Specifically, the type of intelligence used is Edge AI, which processes data locally, rather than on “the cloud,” significantly increasing how fast the information is processed. Simply put, the AI used in the KnowWhere CSS is continuously learning and is poised to process threat intelligence as quickly as possible. 


How do ATD systems protect privacy?

As individual privacy has become more and more tenuous, people are deservingly hesitant to trust intelligent surveillance systems. We’ve learned recently that big tech companies are hungry for our data and likeness, but are unwilling to pay the bill - is intelligent surveillance just another way for billionaires to make a buck? While that certainly is a concern, there are parameters in place to assure that the privacy of individuals inside schools is always protected. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects students’ personal information from being used without their consent. Drift Net takes the importance of privacy further but not using biometric info in our threat detection or surveillance. This means the system doesn’t take biological measurements of a person to identify them, rather the KnowWhere system identifies unspecified people from their heat signature. This allows the system to account for people in proximity to threats, without the need to identify them. The KnowWhere system is meant to be used for threat detection, not to monitor an individual’s behavior. 

As ATD is still an emerging technology, we at Drift Net Securities have committed to providing this innovation in a manner that still protects the privacy of students, advances the decisions of school leadership, and lives up to the promise of early detection and rapid response. We are confident that the application of ATD will expand outside of schools to business campuses, houses of worship, retail, government buildings, and everywhere else where groups of people need protection. But for now, we are focussing our efforts to provide this tech to schools equitably, so schools of all sizes, budgets, or demographics can access a potentially life-saving security solution. We know that if we want autonomous threat detection to be a foundational component of comprehensive safety in our country, we need to start at the foundation - with the students and educators who perpetuate our mission.