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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cabinet Maker / Joiner

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This bespoke furniture and inte...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones