Weapons detection system considerations for facilities

Jan. 22, 2024
Many considerations should inform the purchase, testing, training, site selection, installation, staffing and maintenance of these valuable tools.

Weapons-detection systems (WDS) have long found a home in high-security facilities such as airports, courthouses, and government buildings, as well as vulnerable sites including schools, stadiums, and industrial environments.

More recently, as both the technology and aesthetics improve, the security environment evolves, and systems become more budget friendly, WDS are increasingly appearing in places such as casinos, hospitals, jewelry stores and houses of worship.

But WDS are not “set and forget” technologies. Many considerations should inform the purchase, testing, training, site selection, installation, staffing and maintenance of these valuable tools. The following compiles the most noteworthy issues in general for facilities, while pointing out unique conditions and circumstances for specific venues.

General considerations before installing a WDS

  • Who do you serve? For example, gaming operations serve all strata of society, from the homeless to the ultrarich.
  • What is their state of mind? Hospitals, for example, serve people—patients, family, friends--at the lowest point in their lives, where they be angry, upset, desperate, etc.
  • What is the unique culture of your facility and how do WDSs fit in?
  • What is your history with violence/weapons on property?
  • What hours do you operate?
  • What is the general crime rate in your area?
  • How do the people you serve feel about overt signs of security? For example, church parishioners may insist on a more welcoming environment.
  • Do outside/nonaffiliated groups use your facility? For example, community groups often use space at houses of worship.
  • Does the site, such as a church or casino, host events such as high-profile weddings or boxing matches that might require weapons screening?
  • How will a small delay at the screening station affect the organization’s operations?
  • How many public access points do you have?
  • Do specific areas or rooms have particular security/weapons concerns?
  • What is your existing security infrastructure like, and how would a WDS fit in or improve overall security, data collection, etc.

What to Ask About System Capabilities

  • Can the system accommodate metal objects such as walkers, wheelchairs, medical implants, etc.
  • Does the system require users to remove phones, keys, and other metal objects before passing through the detectors?
  • Can the system distinguish between small knives and innocuous items such as keys and smartphones?
  • Does the system rely on metal detection or magnetometry only, or does it use other technologies?
  • Does the system comply with federal standards such as the NILECJ-STD-0601.00 Level 1 and 2 Security Standard?
  • Does the system offer:
    • Ability to alert on specific areas for secondary screening?
    • Real-time alerts?
    • Real-time alert resolution?
    • Incident reporting?
    • Compliance documentation?
    • Guard check-in?
    • Reports and analytics?
    • Integrations
      • Access control systems?
      • VMS?
      • Visual-light weapons detection
      • Notification systems?
      • Intrusion alarms or detectors?
      • Facial recognition?
    • Quick portability?
    • 24-7 support?
    • Sufficient throughput?
      • Are the WDS’s scale and capabilities commensurate with typical volume and pace of pedestrian flow?
      • Do users need to remove items such as phones, belts, and keys?
      • Will throughput time affect the user experience (>10-15 seconds for primary screening)? For example, will ER screening delay immediate care?

The Number of systems

  • How many public entrances does the facility have?
  • How much pedestrian traffic is there?
  • What is the facility’s risk profile?
  • What is the WDS/security budget?
  • Is it feasible to have a WDS at every public entrance?
  • How many officers are available to staff them?
  • Should you consider a separate WDS for staff to accommodate en masse shift changes in facilities such as medical centers?

Tips for Placement

  • Where are the entrances and how many are there? For example, hospitals usually have at least one main entrance and one emergency room entrance. Large casinos often have multiple entrances, including main entrances with 20 or more doors.
  • For small properties such as jewelry stores, is it feasible to build the system into the main vestibule? (if so, consider bulletproof glass and doors.)
  • Can the WDS be circumvented, and the facility be accessed through another part of the building or adjacent building, such as, in a casino, the guest rooms, business meeting rooms/convention center, or restaurants?
  • Are there any particularly sensitive areas (such as clergy offices in HoWs or private high-stakes games in casinos?
  • Are there corridors to such private areas that one or two WDSs can cover?

Other Logistics to Consider

  • Is a nearby private room for further screening accessible?
  • Is there appropriate space for queuing, inside during inclement weather?
  • Is it reasonable to make visitors walk long distances to entry points? Patients and hospital guests are frequently elderly, sick, or impaired. Also, many gamblers, such as in Atlantic City, are elderly, infirm, or have limited mobility. Consider wanding visitors with prosthetics, in wheelchairs or scooters, or with walkers or canes.
  • If the WDS emits an audible alert, will it be heard over the ambient noise of the facility?
  • Have you considered means of egress issues? For example, is the WDS easily movable (e.g. on wheels) in case of a medical center evacuation?

Budgeting for HoWs

  • Can modestly resourced facilities such as HoWs afford the expense?
  • Would existing staff salaries cover officers who operate the WDS? Would they need supplementation at certain times or for certain events?
  • Are grants available? Federal and state security grant programs exist for HoWs.
  • For HoW or community buildings, can a security fee be assessed?
  • Can you potentially show a return on investment (e.g. reduction in weapons-crime?)

Staffing Considerations

  • Are there enough officers to conduct the various levels of screening—including preparation, WDS scanning, and secondary search/screening/wanding? (Best practice for larger facilities is 3 officers: one each for oversight, primary screening, and secondary screening/response)
  • Are staff sufficiently trained?
  • Who will fill in during breaks, meals?
  • What days/hours will be covered?

Thoughts on Signage

  • Where will signage be placed and how prominently?
  • Are signs accessible to vision impaired?
  • Do you have signage that appropriately warns visitors, staff, etc. before they enter the facility?
  • Have you decided whether signage will ban guns on the property. If such signage is used, an attacker may assume officers and patrons aren’t armed.

Sorting Through Legal issues

  • Is your industry regulated, and does any regulation cover security? OSHA covers most private sector employees, and the Joint Commission, HIPAA, and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act impose or influence security requirements for hospitals.
  • What are your state and local laws/regulations regarding open and concealed carry in your facility?
  • What are state and local laws regarding employees keeping handguns in their vehicles on company property?
  • Will you be collecting data from the system? If so, you will likely have to follow privacy laws depending on your location, where data is collected and stored, the citizenship of your patrons, etc.

Other Important Considerations

  • WDSs represent an investment in staff, visitors, customers, community members, patients, lodgers, etc.
  • WDSs contribute to peace of mind, allow staff and visitors to enjoy themselves without worry.
  • WDSs could contribute to staff retention and recruitment.
  • In HoWs and community buildings, consider fielding a survey to staff and congregants, perhaps emphasizing the importance of protecting children in the nursery, students, the aged and infirm, etc.
  • For gaming environments, stadiums, etc., consider whether the network infrastructure will interfere with the operation of the WDS.

Special thanks to the following professionals for their input: Chris Ciabarra, Eric Sean Clay, Doug Florence, Josh Phillips, Ernie van der Leest and Chris Ciabarra of Athena Security.

Michael Gips is a senior advisor for Cardinal Point Strategies (CPS) and a Principal at Global Insights in Professional Security, where he counsels security executives and growth-stage companies and consults and creates content for the security industry. A former executive at ASIS International, Gips developed and ran the CSO Roundtable, edited Security Management magazine, and oversaw Certification, Standards & Guidelines, Content, Production, Learning, and Marketing. He received an Outstanding Security Performance Award for Best Security Consultant in 2021, was named by IFSEC as the 6th most influential security thought leader in 2021 and was included in Security magazine’s 2019 list of the Most Influential People in Security. He is also the President of the nonprofit Global Life Safety Alliance.