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Acoustic gunshot sensors shown to improve chances for shooting victims

Image credit: dt

Acoustic gunshot sensors that have been installed in American cities to detect rogue shooters have been shown to help victims make their way to nearby hospitals sooner than they otherwise would have done.

The effectiveness of the technology for saving lives had not been studied until surgeons at the University of California started looking at the data.

“Our key finding was that the use of these acoustic gunshot sensors showed promise as a system that may benefit gunshot victims,” said lead study author Magdalene A. Brooke.

Gunshot sensor technology involves sensors, essentially microphones, mounted on buildings and utility poles.

These sensors detect the sound waves of a gunshot, and software calculates input from several sensors to triangulate its location with a margin of error of about 25 metres. The system can distinguish between single and multiple gunshots, and can differentiate gunshots from fireworks and other sounds that may activate it.

The idea is to detect gunshots that go unreported and provide responders with more accurate information on the point of origin than they can glean from citizens’ calls.

About 90 US cities have this technology, and Oakland’s system has been in place since 2006. Fewer than 20 per cent of shots fired are reported to police, the study authors stated.

The research into the technology comes at a particularly pertinent time, just weeks after a shooting in Las Vegas killed over 50 people and injured more than 500. It was also the 273rd mass shooting that the US had experienced in 2017 according to the Gun Violence Archive, amounting to almost one a day.

The researchers analysed cases of 731 gunshot victims, 192 (26 per cent) of whom were identified with acoustic sensor technology.

Compared to shooting victims identified with conventional policing methods, sensor-related patients were more likely to be female (20.8 per cent vs 12.8 per cent), have higher injury severity scores (13.8 per cent vs 10.7 per cent), spend more days on mechanical ventilation (1.2 days vs 0.7 days) and more time in the hospital (8.4 days vs 5.7 days).

They were also more likely to need an operation (44.8 per cent vs. 35.6 per cent), although the difference in mortality was not statistically significant: 12 per cent for sensor-related victims and 10.2 per cent for others.

“We found that gunshot victims whom we could connect to a gunshot sensor activation experienced decreased prehospital time and emergency medical service on-scene times compared with those who were presumably discovered due to standard policing methods,” Brooke said.

“These patients also experienced a similar mortality to the control group despite having higher injury severity scores, suggesting that this method of alerting police may lead to better than expected outcomes.”

The sensor technology does not necessarily change the way trauma centres receive notification of gunshot victims, Brooke said, but she added, “our study shows that the use of gunshot sensor technology by police may help paramedics treat and transport these patients to the hospital more rapidly”.

In July researchers from the University of Granada, Spain, demonstrated a smart computer system that can detect when a gun is drawn in real-time using video footage.

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