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Omaha shooting sparks mall surveillance debate

Published by Jennifer on December 14, 2007 8:25 AM

Last Wednesday's tragic shooting at the Crossroads Mall in Omaha, NE had victims and pundits alike asking questions - how and why did this happen? Why wasn't security better prepared? What can be done to make malls safer?

Crossroads Mall has security cameras - and guards reportedly noticed shooter Robert Hawkins moving suspiciously through the mall ("casing" if you will) and began to track him on security cameras. It wasn't until 18 year old Hawkins emerged from an elevator with a Soviet-era AK-47 in hand, however, that they realized that real trouble was afoot.

So what can malls do next to control this? If this kind of surveillance doesn't work, what will? Perhaps an improvement in Crossroads' security system is necessary - and there are some emerging technologies that could help make malls (among many other places) safer, namely video analytics. This promising technology could reshape the way that security cameras work - turning them from an instrument of identification into something that can predict and identify crimes before they occur.

Video analytics systems use a specially designed algorithm, either in the camera or software, that allows a camera to independently analyze surveillance footage and detect certain occurrences. Cameras and security systems equipped with video analytics can predict almost any type of movement. Researchers have even developed an algorithm that can detect a concealed weapon - based on human gait (read more).

This type of exciting new technology could be a boon for malls and other public places - able to maintain order and security without metal detectors or constant guard presence. Seamless, nearly invisible security is important for malls, who want to keep their visitors focused on shopping, and not their own safety.