The New York Times ran a story the other day about the fact that more than a third of U.S. state capital buildings don’t require visitors to be screened with metal detectors before they enter. The reason, according to people quoted in the story, is concern that such screening would create long lines and other hassles for visitors. As Montana Governor Steve Bullock told the reporter, “I think we always want to make sure that we can figure out ways to keep this the people’s building, and not make it too intrusive to get in to it.”
As you might imagine, I have some thoughts on the topic.
For starters, this idea that statehouses—or any public or private venue—have to choose between security and convenience is a false choice. At Evolv, we’ve developed screening systems that are specifically designed to screen visitors as they pass by at their normal walking speed, without requiring them to empty their pockets or take off their shoes. We have plenty of other ideas for how to weave soft-target screening equipment into the pace of modern life, and assuming we are anywhere close to correct about the need for this type of screening, we won’t be the only company out there innovating.
But the article highlighted an attitude that needs to change for such products to be adopted: the fatalistic assumption that so long as mass violence remains a problem, that we will have to compromise either our security or the freedom of movement that has been the hallmark of free societies. From the sound of it, the reporter and his sources seem to think this “new normal” is inevitable—and don’t seem to have even considered that technology could help solve the problem.
The story also hints at the relative lack of sophistication in the level of debate regarding soft-target protection. For example, why is the metal detector held out as the symbol of effective security? Increasingly, terrorists carry non-metallic weapons and explosives, precisely because it allows them to avoid detection by this century-old technology. Our Evolv Edge® system, as an example, uses millimeter wave sensors that can discern potentially dangerous objects, enhanced by other sensors including a camera for face recognition to spot people who are known to be dangerous. The increasing role of software in the security equipment industry means companies like ours can build modular architectures that can be upgraded with sensors to combat whatever new types of weapons terrorists dream up in the future.
I make these points not to criticize anyone, but to try to pierce the gloomy view that securing soft targets will require major compromises in the years ahead. Based only on the progress we’ve made at Evolv, I can confidently say that public servants like Governor Bullock will not be limited to choosing from between two lousy options.