Massachusetts school installs country's first shooter-detection system

Lt. Greg Gallant, of the Methuen, Mass. police department, portrays an active shooter as he roams the halls of a school with an assault rifle, loaded with dummy rounds, during a demonstration in Methuen, Mass., on Nov. 11, 2014.
Lt. Greg Gallant, of the Methuen, Mass. police department, portrays an active shooter as he roams the halls of a school with an assault rifle, loaded with dummy rounds, during a demonstration in Methuen, Mass., on Nov. 11, 2014.

A district in Massachusetts this week unveiled the country's first installation of a shooter-detection system inside a U.S. school that can recognize and track a gunman roaming through the building. With students and staff out for Veterans Day on Tuesday, police demonstrated a live mock trial of the innovative system inside a school in Methuen, a town located about 30 miles north of Boston.

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The technology of the Guardian Indoor Gunshot Detection is similar to that used by the military to keep soldiers safe inside the United States and around the world. Sensors installed in classrooms, hallways and entrances immediately detect the firing of a gunshot in less than a second. Then, a mobile app sends text messages with the school name and exact location of the incident to the superintendent, principal, police chief, and school resource officer. Once alerted, the officials also can track the gunman's movements.

The Methuen district is comprised of five schools -- four grammar schools and one high school. But officials wouldn't identify which building now has the system installed.

"Unfortunately, there seems to be a need for a device like this."'

In the drill Tuesday, police officers acted out an "active-shooter" situation with plastic guns, while about 150 administrators and police officers from around the Northeast gathered in the school auditorium to watch the demonstration on a large screen. Attendees viewed a projected map of the building, where a green light soon emerged after police fired gunshots. 

"You cannot hear shots, but you see it on the screen," Methuen Public Schools Superintendent Judith Scannell told msnbc. "We picked right up on it and we know exactly where the shooter is in the building."

Democratic U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts witnessed the event from the auditorium. "It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure our schools are sanctuaries for learning," she said in a statement emailed to msnbc. "As the demonstration showed, this type of technology has the potential to be an important part of a larger, comprehensive system of preparedness and response.” 

Local engineers from the company that developed the shooter-detection technology, Massachusetts-based Shooter Detection Systems, approached Scannell two years ago with the idea. She said it was a good fit for the size of the district -- about 7,500 students -- and the layout of the school buildings. A police squad repeatedly tested and tweaked the system during off-school hours before unveiling it on Tuesday.

The school is currently a pilot for the system at no cost to the district nor to taxpayers, according to Scannell. She said she hopes the other buildings within her district will implement the measure soon, but budget restrictions can limit an administrator's ability to adopt such a technology. The Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia is the country's first institute of higher education to introduce a similar system, called "SecureCampus," produced by a company based in California, The Boston Globe reported.

"It's a crazy world, and it helps with the mental health of students, too," Scannell said, adding that she was "absolutely intrigued" by the technology. "It's a win-win for everybody."

"Is there a 100% guarantee that nothing would happen? Absolutely not. You never know. You just never know," she added.

Representatives at Shooter Detection Systems also are working with corporations, airports, universities, malls and movie theaters. "Unfortunately, there seems to be a need for a device like this," Christian Connors, president of the company, told msnbc.

In total, there have been 88 school shootings since 26 individuals, including 20 first-graders, died in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety. Last month, an alleged gunman opened fire at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington and killed four classmates and himself.

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Students and staff in other districts around the country have practiced shooting drills. Board members in some Missouri schools earlier this year began sending faculty members who volunteered to receive concealed-weapons training in the wake of multiple rampages across the country. Districts in other states -- including Kansas, Ohio and Indiana -- also demonstrated interest in the program. The procedures are in addition to the widespread practice of lockdown drills.

Shooting incidents in which a gunman kills or wounds multiple people are becoming more frequent in the United States, specifically in the workplace and at schools, the FBI confirmed in a report that examined mass tragedies in the past 13 years. The “Active-Shooter Study,” released in September, analyzed 160 incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2013, including the fatal shootings at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Aurora movie theater and the Washington Navy Yard. An average of 6.4 incidents occurred annually during the first seven years of the study. And about 16.4 shootings happened each year during the last seven years.