Gilbane Bets Big on New Defense Technology

Wed December 16, 2015 - Northeast Edition
Hiawatha Bray

Gilbane plans to encourage its customers to install the Guardian system in their buildings.
Gilbane plans to encourage its customers to install the Guardian system in their buildings.

Providence-based Gilbane, one of the nation’s biggest construction companies, is making a bold bet on new technology from a Massachusetts firm that could save lives during mass shooting incidents such as the recent terrorist attack in San Bernadino, Calif.

Gilbane has installed a Guardian indoor gunfire detection system from Shooter Detection Systems LLC, at its offices in Boston. In addition, Gilbane plans to encourage its customers to install the Guardian system in their buildings.

“I hope I never have to see it work live,” said Gilbane senior vice president Ryan Hutchins. “But I do know the technology works.”

Gilbane builds large commercial, educational, and governmental buildings worldwide. According to Forbes magazine, it’s the 111th-largest privately-held company in the US, with 2014 revenue of $3.9 billion. Its major local projects include the John Hancock Tower in Boston, as well as the Quincy High School building and the sports center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The Guardian system has been installed in about 50 locations, including a public school in Methuen. But the deal with Gilbane could make indoor gunfire detection systems a common feature of large buildings throughout the US. “For future schools and government buildings, this might be a minimum standard,” said Daniel Linskey, managing director of the Boston office of international security company Kroll, and former superintendent-in-chief of the Boston Police Department.

Hutchins said that his company installed the system in part to protect its employees. But he added that school construction is Gilbane’s biggest market, and that customers had begun asking for better security against gun attacks. “In the past year-and-a-half it’s been, what do we do about active shooters?” Hutchins said.

Guardian uses small wall-mounted sensors that combine microphones and infrared light sensors to identify the noise and muzzle flash of a gunshot. The data is fed to a computer that instantly identifies the shooter’s exact location within the building This information is immediately relayed to police. In addition, occupants of the building receive messages on their cell phones warning them of the attack. Those close to the shooter are warned to take cover and barricade their doors, while those farther away can be directed to the nearest exits.

Hutchins said customers could come to the Boston office to see how the system looks, but he said Gilbane has no intention of demonstrating it with real gunfire.

The cost of the system will vary with the size of a building. Shooter Detection Systems chief executive Chris Connors said a simple installation for a building’s entryway would run between $10,000 and $15,000. He also said that the company would soon offer a version that integrates with a building’s video surveillance system. In this version, security cameras would automatically home in on the person firing the gun, providing police with a look at the shooter. The system also could integrate with buildings equipped with remotely-controlled electric door locks. When shots are detected, the attacker could be instantly locked out of every other part of the building.

Jeff Slotnick, senior regional vice president of ASIS International, a Virginia-based organization of security professionals, said that indoor shot detection can save lives, and that it makes sense for certain soft targets, such as schools or shopping malls, where an active shooter could do terrible damage.

But he said it may not be a sound investment for the typical office or commercial building. “An enterprise should be prudent,” Slotnick said. “You cannot plan your business around all the possible threats that might occur.”