The recent events in Paris have concentrated minds about the vulnerability of international cities like London to terror attacks by gun toting terrorists. While it is evidently clear that the Metropolitan Police Service, alongside police forces across the country and the security services, are working hard to prevent such an attack from taking place - more is required to protect soft targets like hospitals, museums, government buildings, train stations and shopping malls.
There is a real opportunity for the UK to introduce new technology which is currently being trialled in the USA for this very purpose. Gunfire detectors, which use highly accurate acoustic monitors combined with infrared sensors, are able to convey the exact location of gunfire within a building. This type of solution may not be a replacement to good preventative work based on intelligence, but they do have the potential to immediately alert the police to an armed incident.
The current time it takes for an armed police unit to respond to an incident differs greatly across the country, but it is always longer than an unarmed unit. In a volatile and chaotic situation, valuable minutes are lost during the initial stages of an armed incident. Technology like gunfire detectors would allow for a far quicker and more appropriate response to live-shooter situations, especially in busy cities like London. There would also be a clear reduction in the time it takes for an incident to be reported; as delays which usually always occur between shots first being fired and an individual being in a safe enough position to alert the authorities, would be eliminated. This would be a key step forward in containing such events and minimalising the risk to innocent members of the public and those who work in public buildings.
There are a variety of gunfire detectors available, and the average cost for kitting out a building is usually between £13k and £65k - depending on the size and layout of the building they're installed in. The Government should give serious consideration to trialling such technology across 50 sites, it would cost around £3.3m, which is less than 1 per cent of the current anti-terrorism budget. Also, what's important to remember, is that this would be a one off cost. While there have been calls to just increase the number of armed police officers, that would be an annual cost - and there will never be enough armed officers to protect every soft target all of the time.
The introduction of gunfire detectors will help to save lives. Cutting the response time of armed officers, alongside providing them with accurate information about the location of an armed individual, will ensure incidents are dealt with as quickly as possible. During a time of tight financial constraints, the use of such technology offers a smart solution that is relatively low cost when taken in the context of the billions spent annually on anti-terror activities.
You can read more on my proposal here