From public venues to critical infrastructure – Safeguarding urban society in a digitally transforming, post Covid world

Market Infrastructure

With over half the world’s population living in cities, radicalisation on the increase and threats evolving, security in the urban environment is in the public policy spotlight. It is central to the Protect Duty legislation which is emerging around the world and requires preparedness for, and protection from, terrorist attacks in public places.

Corporate and government buildings, critical national infrastructure, conference centres, public transport, arenas and many other public venues increasingly need to be secured to protect property, staff and the general public from diverse threats. In the last few years cyber-attacks have joined the core list of threats to occur most likely such as weapons, explosives and narcotics and even more recently, keeping people safe from COVID-19 transmission has also become a priority.

Innovative and very effective technology is available to monitor and detect a range of items from biological pathogens and drugs, to IEDs, guns and knives. The key to successful urban security is to operate screening and testing procedures whilst maintaining an acceptable standard of user experience.

The following use cases demonstrate the technologies and approaches taken in four scenarios:

  • Leveraging AI and deep learning algorithms to automate screening and support high throughput at large, public events
  • Keeping people safe from COVID-19 on a busy campus
  • Detecting differing risks in the mail room – a vulnerable entry point for any organisation
  • Simplifying prison security with an integrated eco-system


Use Case 1 – National Basketball Association (NBA)

The challenge

The NBA is one of the four major professional sports leagues in the USA and Canada. Annual audiences supporting its’ 30 teams can exceed 20 million across several venues. Historically, the key threats at these events are from firearms and knives.

With such high numbers at the gate, it was critical to combine superior levels of specialist weapon detection with a high throughput. Addressing this challenge manually requires large numbers of highly skilled and very costly security personnel.

The solution

Automatic weapons detection technology provided the solution. Artificial intelligence and deep learning are used to train object recognition algorithms to identify certain threats based on their shape – for example guns and knives. The algorithms can be trained and continually expanded over time to include new objects.

An automated process is much faster and more efficient than the manual alternative. It maintains throughput by reducing waiting times, which, in turn, means a much more agreeable experience for both visitors and operators. As fewer items are handled, there is also less opportunity for COVID-19 cross contamination.

Automation delivers a very high probability of weapon detection, generates a very low false-alarm rate and requires minimal training for operators, overall tackling human error – 78% of errors in industry are caused by humans. Efficiency and security levels increase and costs are reduced.

Use Case 2 – Re-opening the University of Maryland 

The challenge

As society gradually re-opened following COVID 19 restrictions and lockdowns, the University of Maryland began to welcome students and staff back to the campus. Anxious to ensure the safety of all concerned, the challenge was to introduce an accurate and non-invasive testing procedure which could be carried out quickly and effectively.

The solution

High sensitivity biothreat detectors find and identify pathogens in the air within minutes and can therefore be used for routine testing or as an emergency response. They collect and analyse air samples using sensitive, selective and rapid detection technology to identify the presence of dangerous pathogens on the spot. Some have been verified as capable of detecting SARS-CoV-2.

As part of its COVID-19 mitigation strategy, the University’s Environmental Safety and Health (ESH) team has successfully been using biothreat detectors across the campus. After a student tested positive in a research facility, the room was subsequently cleared by multiple tests and the area was deemed free of contamination.

In a separate instance, a test conducted in a team locker room produced a positive environmental result. All those present were tested for COVID-19 and three infected people identified. By acting quickly with biothreat detection, the ESH team helped to prevent further spread of the virus.

Use Case 3 – Protecting the mail room from multiple threats 

The challenge

Mail rooms generally receive a high volume of small and large parcels every day. They are vulnerable points of entry to any organisation and although some have basic screening systems, most do not – leaving the facilities, staff and visitors open to risk.

The solution

Threats come in many forms, therefore mail rooms need security screening which can intercept not just explosives, but also biological agents, pathogens, weapons, narcotics and other hazardous materials. Therefore, a multi-layered approach to screening is needed and can be configured to address the threat profile of individual locations.

A fairly typical three layer process would include:
Layer 1: A conventional X-ray scanner with the appropriate tunnel size. This can also include object recognition software.
Layer 2: Trace and chemical detection based on IMS Technology for explosives, chemical agents and narcotics – as well as identification of hazardous substances.
Layer 3: A mobile, highly sensitive biothreat detector for pathogens, biological toxins (such as Anthrax, Ricin, Smallpox) and viruses including SARS-CoV-2.

Use Case 4 -Winning the war on contraband in prisons

The challenge

Contraband finds its way into prisons via staff, prisoners, visitors and supplies. The presence of weapons, sharp objects, narcotics, mobile phones and Sim cards is a growing and complex problem made even more challenging due to the prevalence of Spice – a drug which can have devastating consequences and has, until now, been extremely difficult to detect.

The solution

Integrating trace detection, X-ray and people screening, delivers a central security capability with all images, items or bags automatically linked to the relevant person. Processed in real time, the data can be precisely identified, co-related, tracked and stored during and after the screening processes – and in line with operational, security and legal procedures.

Non-invasive, contactless people screening using transmission X-ray or millimetre wave (mmW) scanners with biometric ID, detect objects on or in the body including metals, ceramics, plastics and liquids. The addition of object recognition algorithms enables high speed, conventional X-ray systems to automatically detect guns and knives – the algorithms can be trained to detect other prison contraband such as mobile phones.

Some trace detectors now have the ability to discover the synthetic cannabinoids commonly known as Spice. They focus on targeting the key chemical compounds found in the vast majority of Spice substances and can identify them from samples as small as one nanogram. The addition of Spice further expands the impressive detection library of explosives plus a wide range of narcotics including various forms of fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and THC. These systems are also highly effective in finding concealed narcotics, even those liquefied and absorbed into paper.

New risks have arisen in the 21st century and they continue to evolve. This means additional challenges requiring effective security screening to protect people, keep dangerous or prohibited items out and avoid evacuations. Thankfully, technology has also continued to evolve and can now mitigate a vast range of threats to our cities, towns, facilities and venues.

Dr. Philo Daniel
Global Director, Urban Security
Philo is the Global Director for the Urban Security Business at Smiths Detection, with previous experience from Thales and Raytheon. In recent years Philo has lived and worked in Sydney, London and Singapore in leadership roles spanning Strategy, Marketing, Business Development and Engineering across Defence, Aerospace, Security and Transport Sectors. Philo holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Programme Management from Australia.
Dr. Philo Daniel
Global Director, Urban Security
Philo is the Global Director for the Urban Security Business at Smiths Detection, with previous experience from Thales and Raytheon. In recent years Philo has lived and worked in Sydney, London and Singapore in leadership roles spanning Strategy, Marketing, Business Development and Engineering across Defence, Aerospace, Security and Transport Sectors. Philo holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Programme Management from Australia.