Protection by detection

A new kind of radar may solve the problem of lethal weapons in our schools. Tony Newton reports

In the past 12 months, British schools have seemed less safe than ever before. First, the fatal stabbing of the headteacher Philip Lawrence while trying to help a pupil; then the horrific massacre at Dunblane; now a machete attack at an infants' school. How can we make our schools the haven for children that they ought to be? Part of the solution may come from the US - by a clever updating of radar.

Compared with the UK, American schools face far bigger problems. The routine carrying of weapons - knives and, worryingly, guns - is far more prevalent. The figures are staggering. According to statistics from the US Bureau of Justice, more than half of violent crimes against teenagers occur in school buildings, on school property or on streets near a school. An estimated 100,000 students carry a gun to school, and gunshots cause one in four deaths among American teenagers.

The carrying of weapons by children for self-protection has reached such epidemic proportions that many American schools have installed metal detectors at all entrances. But as we all know from our experience at airports, conventional metal detectors get it wrong a lot of the time - causing delays and frayed tempers - and only work at very short range. With more than 120,000 school buildings in the US, and an average of eight entrances per building, the search is on for a better system - one that is accurate, cost-effective and non-intrusive.

Now, an American company is experimenting with a device that will be able not only to detect concealed weapons from several metres away, but also to tell what sort of weapon it is. And the subjects will not even know they are being scanned.

The device, known as the Concealed Weapons Detection System, is being developed by The MacAleese Industries Inc, of New Mexico, and has been tested on the nearby Radar Range at the Sandia National Laboratories. It is based on a short-range version of radar.

First, a transmitter beams a pulse of radio energy at the subject. Most of the radio energy passes straight through the body, but a metallic object - such as a knife or a gun - will reflect or scatter some of the energy, which is then picked up by a receiver mounted in the same unit as the transmitter.

So far, this is not very different from the way in which the radar at an airport detects the presence of planes in the sky above it. But the clever part of this new device is the incorporation of software programmed to recognise the characteristic energy scatter patterns - the "signature" - for a wide variety of weapons, such as knife blades, derringers or larger- calibre pistols, and which can discriminate between a weapon and other common metallic objects such as belt buckles, coins or jewellery.

Controlled lab testing has produced a 99.2 per cent success rate for discriminating between weapons and innocent objects - far higher than conventional metal detectors, says the company.

For any building where security is important, the designers envisage a system comprising a complex but hidden array of antennae to provide total coverage of the approach to the door. When a person carrying a concealed weapon approached the door, the system would detect it and automatically engage an electronic lock to keep them out, while sending an alarm (either audible or discreet) to security personnel.

Schools are not the only ones that could benefit from this system. Banks and airports would be prime candidates. Taxi drivers could be protected too - now that attacks by passengers are increasingly common, if not commonplace. A concealed weapons system designed to cover the back doors could warn the driver and automatically lock the door before the passenger got in.

The crucial question is cost: if the device works but is too expensive, then cash-pressed British schools will never be able to afford to install it, and it will be only those organisations that can already afford to spend heavily on security that will use it. On this front, the news is equivocal.

"Our goal is to manufacture these devices for less than $3,000 per unit", said a spokesman for The MacAleese Industries. However, volume - or a government contract - might pull the figure down.

The company is also developing lightweight, hand-held versions of the device for police or military use in the US. For the police officer, a device with a range of 5m to 15m would allow the unobtrusive scanning of a suspect for concealed weapons before trying to make an arrest: this would lessen the risk to the arresting officer and reduce the likelihood of shooting an unarmed suspect. Such a device could also be used to scan large numbers of people arriving at or leaving an event. For the military, a more powerful backpack or vehicle mounted unit would allow long-range surveillance - up to 400m - and could be used to detect snipers or possible ambushes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links