By Richard Comerford
One of the saddest statements about the Newtown Tragedy is that it was not the first time such a thing had happened. According to the Website stoptheshooting.org — created by Alex Algard in 2009 to commemorate the victims of the Columbine shooting — there have been 386 school shootings since 1992 and, in most cases, both the shooters and the victims have been under 19 years of age.
While it may be possible to ban future access to certain types of weapons and ammunition clips, there are already a huge number of multiround, rapid-fire weapons in homes across the nation. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the Connecticut slaughter, with the prospect of new government regulation in the offing, single-day sales of such guns hit a new peak. It’s likely that these legally owned armaments will be around for some time to come.
It is fitting for U.S. citizens to have a long and serious public dialogue about gun control, mental health services, violence and the media, and parental responsibilities and liabilities. But we cannot wait for the outcome of such discussions to protect the well-being of school children and teachers. We need to make sure that schools are safe havens for learning, where both adults and children know there is no threat of sudden, life-altering violence. From what I’ve seen, I believe that advances in magnetometer and other sensing technology make it possible today to set up unobtrusive ways to detect and pin-point the presence of weaponry near and within the grounds of our schools.
Take, for example, a device like the MC3316xMT magnetometer from MEMSIC, a 2012 Product of the Year recognized by Electronic Products for its small size, high accuracy, high sensing range, and low cost. By deploying a wireless network of such devices around schools, the sudden arrival of metallic objects of a size that might pose a threat could be detected. Sensor-location information could then be used to quickly train security cameras on the source, to determine whether there was any reason for further action. Creating such an early-warning system would give people a chance to prepare for any real threat — to go into lock-down and alert proper authorities — before any harm comes to anyone.
Perhaps this ad hoc design isn’t ideal for a school security system, but as engineers, we do have the ability to create practical systems to protect such institutions. It’s something we owe our country and our kids.