Gunshots ring out and within seconds, before anyone even has time to call 911, officers are dispatched to the scene. It’s possible through technology called ShotSpotter.
Law enforcement in cities across the country already use it. However, Action News learned that one college in the area has installed this technology.
The threat of violence is an unfortunate reality for schools and colleges across the country.
In November 2014, a gunman opened fire at the Strozier Library at Florida State University. Three people were wounded before police took the gunman down. When shots are fired, seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
Action News traveled 138 miles up Interstate 95 to SCAD, the Savannah College of Art & Design. It recently became the first college in the country to use ShotSpotter’s Secure Campus system, a gunfire detection system.
The technology uses sensors to pick up the sound of gunfire, then pinpoint how many shots were fired and where, within about 80 feet. Then within 30 to 45 seconds that information is sent to first responders, all without one call to 911.
The campus system includes sensors both inside and outside campus buildings.
SCAD Director of Security John Buchovich gave us an example of the type of information the system can provide to responding officers.
“Shots fired, Building A, second floor, so if we had a situation where someone was firing multiple shots in a building, we would know what floor they are on,” Buchovich said.
The technology covers two square miles of SCAD’s campus, which winds through the heart of downtown Savannah.
“It’s like a fire alarm in a building. When you walk into a building, you don’t expect it to catch on fire but that fire alarm is there to protect you.” Buchovich said. “This system is the same thing. It’s like a fire alarm.”
The director says ShotSpotter helps speed up response times, getting officers to the scene before a call for help is even made.
Action News went through the police reports from the FSU shooting. The reports reveals the gunman walked into the library and opened fire around 12:23 a.m. Two 911 calls were made around 12:24 a.m., dispatch relayed that information to officers by 12:25 a.m., who arrived at the scene around 12:27 am. A campus alert was then went out 7 minutes later, at 12:34 a.m.
While most agree the FSU response was fast, director Buchovich said ShotSpotter could speed up responses even more and decrease the time it takes to get alerts out.
“It lets people know that no one has to call 911. We're going to know what is happening on our campus and we can turn cameras there and send police officers and our officers there much quicker,” Buchovich said.
The shooting at FSU prompted local colleges to review their security.
Action News reached out to some of those colleges and asked if they are considering ShotSpotter. FSU officials told Action News they are not looking into it. Only Edwards Waters College in Jacksonville told Action News it would use ShotSpotter technology because of the school’s location, but if it could get grants or other funding to pay for it. The EWC campus is right in the heart of Newtown, an area plagued by crime and violence.
University of North Florida Police Chief Frank Mackesy said he believes it’s better suited for large or urban campuses that are more incorporated into the neighborhoods around them.
“We’re small enough where we have a relatively compressed response time anyway,” Mackesy said.
Some Florida lawmakers believe the answer to quickly thwarting a campus shooter is to allow students and faculty to carry concealed weapons. But the controversial Campus Carry bill died when the Florida House abruptly ended its’ session last month.
SCAD sophomore Chrissy Eckman believes ShotSpotter is a safer alternative.
“I feel much safer having technology there again to be a proactive system where officials can come in and take control if they need to,” Eckman said.
SCAD said ShotSpotter is just one of many types of technology it uses to keep the campus safe. In addition to ShotSpotter, SCAD also has a system of more than 500 cameras and an app students can use to provide information to police and a mass notification alert system.
While technology won’t stop a shooting from happening, it could help lead officers to a shooter faster and stop another shot from being fired.
ShotSpotter is also installed in parts of the City of Savannah. City officers work in partnership with SCAD to utilize and respond to alerts from the technology.
SCAD pays for its own portion of the system, but wouldn’t provide details of the cost. The city of Savannah spends about $135,000 a year in maintenance and operating costs and is currently seeking a grant to expand ShotSpotter in the city.