BUTLERVILLE, Ind. — More than 25 Airmen assigned to the Air Force Research Laboratory Command, from four Air Force Bases, gathered at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Butlerville, Indiana, June 15 to 19 to demonstrate their new innovative ways to deal with an active shooter scenario as part of the 2015 AFRL Commanders Challenge.
Each team made up of enlisted, officers and civilians from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Robbins Air Force Base, Georgia; Hill Air Force Base, Utah and Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, were given the task of researching and developing a system designed to aid law enforcement in deterring or apprehending an active shooter, as well as making others in the affected building aware of the situation and the location of the shooter.
“We choose this scenario because we as an Air Force realize it’s a big issue,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Roger Vincent, AFRL vice commander. “These four teams of young professionals have broken down the issue and found several possible solutions, all of which are quite remarkable.”
According to Capt. Aaron Myers the AFRL Commanders Challenge program execution officer, each team was given six months to bring individual systems to manage “internal threats” from concept into an operational system that could be demonstrated for leaders from various commands across the Air Force and judges at the Commanders Challenge.
“For many of these young engineers, this is the first time they have been able to see a project through from conception to application,” said Myers, AFRL exercise head. “It’s very exciting to see these systems put to the test, each team really attacked the problem and came up with some great solutions.”
Demonstrated solutions varied from sensors built into existing fire alarm systems, to solutions using Internet protocol phones or pull stations to notify emergency responders of the active-shooter problem in the building.
Brandon Smith, an Aerospace Engineer with AFRL, was one of the members on the team from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, whose system used a combination of methods to notify emergency responders as well as assist them when they arrive on scene.
“Our system allows individuals to use a pull station on the wall when they see a shooter, or if they are unable to make it to the pull stations, we have sensors that will pick up the gun shot and trigger the alarm,” said Smith. “We are (then) able to notify law enforcement as well as send out alerts via smartphone apps and a public address system alerting (other) individuals in the building of the situation and to lock down.”
Additionally, the team’s solution allows the dispatch center to track the whereabouts of law enforcement via a GPS style tracker that displays the location on a floor plan map of the building. They are then able to guide law enforcement to the location of the last known gunshot or pull station activation.
According to 1st Lt. Rachel Mamroth, Hill AFB team test lead, her team choose to go a different route and focus on the use equipment that many bases may already have, keeping it low cost and easy to implement.
“We choose to use Internet protocol phones by utilizing them as a distress button and a public address system,” Mamroth said. “Users are able to push a distress button, which sends a silent call to 911 and allows them to listen in to your room via the phone speaker. However, it doesn’t allow them to talk back, which means they are able to know what’s going on, but not make anyone else in the room aware the speaker is on.”
The dispatch center is then able to send emergency responders to the scene and tell them exactly which phone the distress came from. In addition, they are able to send a lockdown message from the web interface application to the other phones in that specific building, notifying them of the situation and to lock down.
No matter which solution was implemented, each team was able to successfully detect the active shooter, and notify law enforcement as well as individuals in the building.
“We are always looking for the one unique solution to a problem, but often we can’t find it,” said Vincent. “In this case, we are given the chance to look at multiple programs and while one specific program may not be deployed, we were able to look at them and figure out possible ways to combine them to form one possible program.”
After each application’s demonstration, teams were given feedback on how their solution could be improved upon as well as what the judges and others liked. All of the participating teams agreed that it was a great feeling to see everything that they have spent the last six months working on to come to fruition.
“To know that what I did could be used in the future to save lives and make an impact is a great feeling,” said Smith.
Mamroth echoed his sentiment, saying she was glad that she applied for the team.
“I almost didn’t apply because I didn’t think I would get a spot on the team, but I did,” she said. “I would encourage anyone thinking about maybe applying for next year’s team to do it, you never know who they will choose.”
After the systems were silenced, and all active-shooter threats managed, the teams gathered for a final awards ceremony where the team from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was named this year’s winner and presented the commanders trophy by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Masiello, AFRL commander.