Securing the Future: Lessons from Virginia Beach

Sunday, April 7th, 2019

For most working people, Friday afternoons have a special kind of grace.  It’s the end of the work week.  People are looking forward to family time, barbeques, sleeping in.  In Virginia Beach on the afternoon of May 31st, there were dozens of events planned all over town.  It was just a couple of weeks until Graduation Day at the local high school, until Father’s Day.  There were concerts, movies, a dolphin exhibit at the aquarium, house parties and, of course, the beach.  The weather was expected to be mostly sunny.  Not too hot, not too cold.  Perfect for an early beach day.  Just as perfect for a backyard cook out, maybe a game of darts in the garage.  There was every reason to think it was going to be a beautiful summer weekend in one of America’s favorite beach towns.  Then, near the end of the work day, at just about 4:00PM, a long-time employee of the City of Virginia Beach entered the Operations Building on Courthouse Drive using his employee electronic key card and started shooting.

According to Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera, the shooter entered the building and “immediately began to indiscriminately fire upon all of the victims.”  As of this writing, no one knows why.  No one knows how long he had been planning to murder his coworkers.  All that is known is that he emailed a terse resignation letter to his supervisor that morning explaining that, though he had enjoyed working there, he was putting in his two weeks’ notice “due to personal reasons.”

Early reports suggest that the first victim, a contractor who had visited the facility to obtain a permit, may have been shot in his car in the parking lot and left to die.  According to police radio recordings, officers received a call from an eye witness to the shooting.  The transcript notes that the witness did not stop and was not available for questioning.  Police searched through the parking lot and, twenty-two minutes after the initial dispatch, an officer called in with a plate number for identification.

With virtually no information, officers bravely entered the building looking for the killer.  They searched through offices and down corridors, unsure where the shooter was.  Within ten minutes of their arrival, police found themselves in what Chief Cervera described as “a long gun battle.”  One officer was shot.  Mercifully, his bulletproof vest saved his life.  He was transported to the hospital.   Police cornered the suspect in an office.  He was wounded.  Thirty-six minutes after the initial dispatch, the shooter was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he later died.  It is unknown at this time whether he died by his own hand or as a result of the gunfight with police.

Police were unsure whether the injured man was the only shooter.  They continued to search the building looking for victims and any possible accomplices, not knowing if they were already in a second shooter’s sights.  In what Chief Cervera called “a horrific crime scene,” victims were located on three different floors.  One witness noted, “We tried to do everything we could to keep everybody safe.  We were all just terrified. It felt like it wasn’t real, like we were in a dream. You are just terrified because all you can hear is the gunshots.”

There was no warning, no indication that the shooter was even upset.  In the days and weeks to come, police will no doubt uncover the motive that drove a disturbed mind to murder his fellow employees.  Politicians will call for action.  The people of Virginia Beach will transition from shock to deep mourning.  The rest of us will struggle to understand.  We’ll all be just a little more nervous about our safety than we used to be.

Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue.”  And so it has been as time after time we absorb the shock of mass murder by an active shooter.  We may never understand why.  We may never be able to unlock the psychological vaults where the motivation for murder lurks, or learn to prevent a disturbed mind from acting out.  But we are not without hope. We are not without a practical solution to a previously insoluble threat.

In 2018, troubled by the growing number of mass shooting incidents and frustrated by the lack of any real solutions, co-founders Lisa Falzone and Chris Ciabarra launched Athena Security, Inc. with the mission to make the world a safer place.  Their next generation platform is capable of stopping crime in its tracks and keeping people safe in school, on the streets, and in the workplace.  Athena helps prevent crime by deploying Artificial Intelligence powered surveillance that detects threating actions – like the raising of a gun. As soon as Athena detects a threat, it sends critical information and live, real-time video to designated security officials and, once the threat is verified, to law enforcement.   At the same time, Athena can alert the shooter that he has been identified and that law-enforcement is on the way.  If there are individuals who are unwelcome in the building, their information can be scanned into the system.  If they attempt to enter, they will be recognized, and a report will be sent immediately to security authorities.

In the past, outdated security camera and alarm systems only documented incidents for analysis after a crime had been committed. They did not recognize or engage criminals in real time or prevent crimes from escalating. To be effective, they required expensive 24/7 monitoring from humans. Bulletins with grainy photographs told security guards who to watch out for.  But if a security guard stepped away to get coffee at the wrong moment, the entire security system was rendered useless, just another recording device. These systems did nothing to prevent crime or to discourage an active shooter.  They could not aid law enforcement in real time.

Eye witness accounts have traditionally been spotty.  Those reporting a crime on a 911 call are often in distress and not clear about all of the relevant facts.  People who come forward after the fact didn’t always recognize what was happening as events were unfolding.  For example, a witness at the Virginia Beach shooting later recounted that he had seen a man enter the building with a gun but assumed that it was part of a scheduled drill.  He and his companion exited the building, realizing only later that the man with the gun was there to murder his coworkers.

Today, Athena’s AI powered technology can actually save lives by stopping crime before it happens.  In an active shooter situation, cameras quickly identify the threat and send real-time intelligence to law enforcement.  An Athena AI powered camera would have spotted the gun and immediately alerted the designated security authority with images.  The camera continues to send critical visual information to authorities throughout an incident.  No more endangering police officers by requiring them to roam blindly through a building looking for an assailant, hoping to spot him before he spots them.  Police can see the shooter and let him know that he has been spotted.  They can mark safe exits to allow people to escape safely, and they can identify who the victims are, where they are, and how they are, providing vital information to EMS and saving lives.

Typically, police receive their first report of an active shooter from a witness – perhaps a passerby, perhaps someone in the building. The only information law-enforcement has to go on is what they are told by a single person who may or may not have the details they really need to capture the shooter quickly and save lives.    Each camera in the Athena Security system is a set of eyes and ears for law-enforcement.  They can see into the building.  They know where the shooter is, facial recognition software may even allow them to know who the shooter is.  They can see the victims, and guide people safely out of the shooter’s path.  On large campuses or multi-building compounds (like the one in Virginia Beach), Athena Security cameras can save law-enforcement critical moments wasted searching in the wrong places and keep them out of range of the shooter.

It is too late to change what has happened.  But it need not be the prologue for what is to come.  Athena Security, Inc. can help to prevent crimes, including mass murder by active shooters.  Please visit https://athena-security.com/ to let Athena Security, Inc. develop a solution for you.