Athena Weapons Detection System Software

Buying Weapon Detection System for Schools? Read This First



On January 4, 2024, the first day of school after winter break, Perry High School, Iowa saw a shooting incident that tragically claimed the life of a student and injured five others. 

This incident was one of seven K-12 school shootings the country has seen in January 2024. These shootings have cost two lives and left 14 people injured. Shockingly, there have been over 189 school shootings since 2018 that have cost the lives of over 120 people and injured 330+ people.

The stats are unsettling. You could take a  deeper dive  into the data, but an underlying fact remains the same. Schools are grappling with ensuring the safety and security of students and staff. And something needs to change.

While implementing weapon detection systems at schools is one of the most effective ways of preventing gun violence, it isn’t that straightforward. Schools must consider the costs, privacy, legal and ethical considerations, among other aspects while liaising with the stakeholders. All these issues make weapon detection system implementation a significant hurdle for schools.

In this article, we address these concerns. We’ll also share the basics of weapon detection systems, how to evaluate your school’s needs, and pick a system that fits your needs.

What is a Weapon Detection System (WDS)?

A Weapon Detection System (WDS) is a form of security system that uses a combination of hardware and software to detect weapons such as lethal firearms, explosives, tactical knives, etc. These systems are widely installed in private and public spaces such as schools, airports, healthcare facilities, government buildings, and stadiums.


The advancements in weapon detection technology have brought about some significant improvements. Object and motion sensors, thermal imaging cameras, acoustic sensors, and AI technologies combine to create state-of-the-art WDS capable of identifying even concealed weapons. 

Newer weapon detection systems also consist of facial recognition or biometric technology, which scans individuals’ faces, fingerprints, or irises and compares them against the database of criminals. If a match is found, the security is notified to take appropriate measures. 

Now that we’ve understood the basics of WDS, let’s look at the five commonly used types of weapon detection systems:

1. Metal Detectors


Metal detectors are perhaps the most commonly used WDS. These devices emit electromagnetic fields, and when a metal object is in its surroundings, it creates a secondary electromagnetic field. The secondary electromagnetic field (the presence of a metal object) disrupts the device’s electromagnetic field, causing the alarm to go off. This is how metal detectors identify the presence of guns, knives, and other metal weapons.

2. X-ray Scanners


X-ray scanners use ionizing electromagnetic radiation to create images of luggage, purses, backpacks, etc. The X-ray beam passes through the luggage onto the other side of the scanner. Different materials absorb the beam at varying rates, with metals absorbing more X-rays than other materials. This difference helps the scanner create a comprehensive image of the metal object. As a result, X-ray scanners help security detect the presence of guns and other explosives concealed within the luggage.

3. Millimeter-wave Body Scanners


While X-ray scanners scan luggage, millimeter-wave scanners scan people. These scanners use radio waves in the millimeter-wave frequency range that penetrate a person’s clothing and reflect from the body and denser objects such as weapons and explosives. 

As the waves bounce back, the sensors capture the reflection, generate 3D holographic images of the person, and show any concealed items under the clothes that help security with threat detection. 

Since millimeter waves are non-ionizing and low power, they don’t penetrate the person’s body or have any harmful effects. Also, since the 3D holographic images are outlines rather than detailed visual representations, people’s privacy is maintained during the screening. 

4. Thermal Imaging Cameras


All objects radiate heat. The thermal imaging camera is equipped with infrared detectors that capture this heat or infrared energy, which is invisible to human eyes, and convert it into visible light, i.e., a thermal image.

The thermal image is represented on a spectrum of colors based on temperature differences. For example, blue represents cooler objects, whereas warm/hotter objects appear in red. Concealed weapons have a distinct heat signature that acts as an anomaly when scanning objects, making it easier for security to detect them.

Thermal imaging cameras have a night vision that enables them to detect weapons even in low light.

5. Video Analysis System


New-age video analysis systems powered by artificial intelligence can identify and differentiate objects. Object detection algorithms are trained on large data sets to identify different weapons. These systems notify security whenever a weapon or weapon-shaped object is brandished or visible in the video footage.

These systems can also analyze behavior and detect abnormalities, such as someone acting suspiciously, carrying heavy objects or weapons, or making sudden movements, such as pulling out or brandishing a gun.

Evaluating Your School’s Needs


Weapon detection systems come in different shapes and sizes. A WDS for an airport would be of the highest scale compared to one at a small, private venue. Even different schools would need WDS of varying scales. Therefore, evaluating your school’s needs before selecting a WDS is necessary. 

Let’s look at how you should go about the evaluation process:

1. Perform a Thorough Security Risk Assessment


The first step consists of evaluating your school premises. This includes assessing your school’s location, area, previous security incidents at the school or in the vicinity, student demographics, and community environment. It is advisable to speak with relevant stakeholders, such as school administrators, teachers, security personnel, and local law enforcement agencies, during risk assessment.

It’s also imperative to analyze student cases of bullying, harassment, and mental illnesses to understand student morale and take appropriate measures to ensure student well-being. Prevention is always better than cure.

After doing the basics, perform the following steps for a well-rounded security risk assessment.

  1. Since school shootings are a glaring concern, identify the risks your school is vulnerable to. Study the potential threats and losses and what you can do to mitigate them.


  2. The second step is to observe students who exhibit at-risk behavior. It could mean addressing any problematic content they share on social media or behavior they demonstrate on school premises.


  3. If someone threatens to commit an attack, intervene at the right time and establish a set of processes to respond to these threats.

2. Define Your Objectives


While zeroing the risk of gun violence is the prime objective, it helps to articulate specific objectives before moving ahead. Determine how you intend to minimize the risks. While implementing a WDS could be a key objective, discuss crucial aspects like enhancing access control, improving surveillance capabilities, and training the staff on emergency response protocols.

Above all, consider what you can do to foster a secure learning environment.

3. Evaluate WDS Options


Once you have defined your objectives for deploying a WDS, evaluate the various WDS options available to you. The evaluation criteria are twofold and can be summarized as follows:

1. The first criterion is to determine the scale of the WDS. For this, you need to take into account the school size, student and staff population, and WDS placement location.

For instance, when assessing the area, consider questions like:

  1. What’s the number of locations you want to install a WDS? For example, the school entryway, outdoor stadium, indoor gym, etc.


  2. Is the entrance/corridor open or confined? You need a waterproof system if the WDS is in an open space.


  3. Are the gates wide or narrow?


  4. What’s the range you’d want the WDS to cover? If you’re installing it at the school grounds, you could complement it with visual gun detection for broader coverage.


  5. What are the types of weapons you want to detect?

Answering these questions gives insights into the scale of the system you’d require.

2.The second criterion is evaluating the market’s WDS alternatives. Consider the technology (types of WDS), scalability, detection capabilities, etc. Evaluate vendors on these aspects. Speak with different vendors and ask for a demo to understand the system better.

(The next section dives deeper into the selection criteria for a WDS. So you’ll be better equipped with information when speaking with vendors.)

4. Develop a Deployment Plan


Once you have evaluated WDS options, the next step is to develop a comprehensive deployment plan.

The first thing to assess is the integration with the existing systems. You must ensure the WDS is compatible with access control systems, surveillance cameras, alarm systems, and communication networks. A seamless integration with the existing security systems effectively mitigates security threats.

The integration and interoperability also ensure that security and first responders can act immediately during emergencies.

The second thing to assess is if the WDS aligns with your school’s emergency response plans. That means the placement of the WDS fits within the school disaster plan so that it doesn’t become a hindrance when accessing triage, evacuation, or first-aid areas.

Working with WDS experts or vendors on planning this phase and conducting a trial run is vital to the effectiveness of the system.

Selection Criteria for Weapon Detection Systems


Now that you’ve determined the school’s needs, you can map them to the available weapon detection systems in the market and pick the best one available. To make selection easier, here are a few selection criteria you should consider while shortlisting WDS:

1. Key Factors


You need to consider the following four key factors when selecting a weapon detection system:

  • Cost: The cost of a WDS depends on the range, the area covered, speed, additional features, types and number of cameras, and other hardware and software. This is the upfront investment you’d need to make when installing a WDS. Most WDS also come with an annual fee that covers training, maintenance, and support expenses.
    Several vendors, such as Athena Security, offer rent-to-own pricing, wherein you make monthly payments until you cover the price of the WDS. So, a typical WDS that costs USD 100,000-120,000 will be yours in 4-5 years with an average monthly rental of USD 2000.
  • Speed and Range: Depending on the placement of the WDS, you need to compare various systems against features like the camera range, flow rate, time required to scan, pixel and light requirements, and camera FPS.
    A system with high speed and long range will allow you to screen more students and staff in less time.
  • Accuracy: False positives are outcomes where the result is incorrectly classified as positive. In our case, a false positive is a non-weapon being flagged as a weapon due to technology limitations. The aim is to look for a vendor with high detection and the lowest false positive rate so that cases of false alarms and unnecessary panics are less. Athena Security’s detection rate will vary according to your visitors we have seen as low as 3% up to 35% as this is determined by what you allow visitors to bring in your building.  For example a school that educates its students would have a 3% false positive rate while a hospital that has  patients brining luggage in would have more like a 35% alarm rate.

2. Legal and Ethical Compliance


Legal and ethical compliance concerning weapon detection systems at schools pertains to protecting students’ rights and privacy while following the relevant laws and regulations.

For instance, Athena’s WDS system adheres to the NILECJ-STD-0601.00 Level 1 and 2 Security Standard.

Moreover, considering that a lot of data, such as student records, video footage, etc., gets stored in the database, the WDS vendor must follow legal standards.

Here are a few legal and ethical considerations to keep in mind:

  1. You and the vendor must comply with privacy laws and regulations to protect student records.


  2. Depending on the local regulations, you may have to notify or obtain permission from students and their parents or guardians before implementing the system. The school is also responsible for letting students know about the WDS implementation, its purpose and function, and students’ rights about it.


  3. From an ethical standpoint, since the cameras collect minors’ information during scanning, data security should be of the highest standard. The software should minimize the collection of personally identifiable information (PII).

3. Maintenance


Maintenance is crucial for the optimal performance of the WDS. When shortlisting WDS vendors, check their maintenance and support policies.

Regular maintenance should include routine inspections, cleaning, and calibration of WDS hardware like cameras, sensors, etc. The vendor should also provide regular software or mobile app updates to address vulnerabilities, introduce new features, and keep updated with the computer or mobile operating system.

You should establish a maintenance schedule to ensure the system runs smoothly all the time. Depending on the system’s complexity, you could train security to perform the maintenance in-house or outsource it to the vendor or a third party.

4. Support


The support aspect includes the troubleshooting component of the WDS. If the system malfunctions or a hardware component stops working, the vendor should provide prompt support to resolve the issue.

Check the mediums used by the vendor to provide support. Is it telephone, email, remote assistance, or onsite support? Ideally, it should offer all three, considering the varying complexity of the problems.

5. Training


After installation, the vendor should provide in-depth training of the system to security and other concerned personnel to operate the WDS. Apart from hands-on training on the system, the training program should also cover legal and ethical compliance so that the school and security use the system by the laws.

They should offer basic troubleshooting training to the staff to resolve minor issues without disrupting school operations.

The staff should also be trained in performing routine maintenance, emergency response protocols, and troubleshooting. 

The vendor should have a training and support wiki (written posts and videos), which would act as a centralized repository for easy access to training materials.

Create Safer Schools With Athena


Athena’s weapon detection system is powered by CEIA OPENGATE, which allows faster screening of students and staff with their backpacks, purses, bags, etc. Along with the CEIA OPENGATE walkthrough weapon detector, the system is made up of induction lidar (an optional thermal camera), visual cameras, controller and monitor tablets, and software powered by AI capabilities for weapon detection.

Key Benefits of Athena’s WDS


Advanced technology: Integrating Athena’s sensors, tablets, and software allows schools to detect over 900 types of firearms in under 3 seconds with a 99% detection rate/accuracy. 

Ease of installation: Athena’s system is highly portable and easy to set up, providing a plug-and-play solution for schools. The lightweight walkthrough detectors can be moved and installed anywhere within minutes.

Speed: The system is 10 times faster than legacy metal detectors and can scan one individual per second, allowing you to scan 3600 individuals per hour.

Accuracy: The system adheres to the NILECJ-STD-0601.00 Level 1 and 2 Security Standard, making us the only WDS in the market to do so.

The weapon detection accuracy removes the need for students to take off their watches, smartphones, belts, and other non-weapon metal items during security checks.

Safety: The device is designed to ensure that it doesn’t adversely affect people. It uses low-frequency electromagnetic technology and dynamic non-contact detection and meets electromagnetic radiation standards. Third-party lab-tested safety compliance ensures that our WDS meets safety standards and regulations. Therefore, our system doesn’t harm humans, pregnant women, kids, electronic devices, or medical devices such as pacemakers and other medical implants.

Real-time updates: When a person walks through the system, the system displays “CLEAR” if no weapon is detected or “OBJECT DETECTED” if a weapon is detected. Upon detection, the alarm process is activated that sends alerts to the security operation center, mobile app, computer browser, video management system, etc.

Automated data transfer: The controller tablet sends data to the Athena Cloud Center, which is made up of  real-time alerts and their resolution, digitize incident reporting, automate compliance documentation and testing from Homeland Security Best Practices driven by Athena’s AI, and pre-built API integrations. These integrations allow you to connect  to third-party apps and get analytics updates to understand the performance of your WDS.

Here is a video that shows Athena’s WDS in action:

How Concealed Weapons are Being Found in Past and Present Technologies at a Hospital

Several WDS players are in the market, but what makes Athena better than its competitors is our system’s speed, accuracy, and reliability. Here’s a brief explanation of how Athena’s Entryway Security surpasses Evolv’s Express on these three factors.

If you’d like to learn how Athena Security can make your school a safer place, get in touch with us! We’d love to schedule a quick demo, understand your requirements, and present a solution that is tailored to your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Is there a device that can detect guns?

Athena’s concealed weapon detection system consists of multiple sensors that can detect different types of firearms, such as handguns, rifles, shotguns, and explosives, hidden beneath layers of clothing or luggage. You can pair it up with Athena’s visual gun detection to identify guns at a distance.

How much does a weapon detection system cost?

A weapon detection system comes with an assortment of high-end hardware and software, and its cost starts from USD 100,000-120,000. However, WDS is also available for rental for a couple of thousand dollars per month.

Are metal detectors expensive for schools?

Considering the high upfront costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars, investing in a WDS can be expensive for some schools. However, Athena has made the WDS available for rental with a monthly rent of USD 2000. Apart from the monthly rental charge, an annual fee of USD 3400 is charged for onsite training, 24/7 support, and maintenance.

This makes the system affordable for schools without any upfront investment.

Since we follow the rent-to-own model, schools can own the system within 4-5 years once the cost is covered.

What are the cons of using metal detectors in schools?

A weapon detection system ensures the school’s and student’s physical and psychological safety. It provides a mental scaffolding for students to feel safe on school premises and focus on learning. The only prerequisite is to ensure legal and ethical compliance so that everyone is aware of the deployment of WDS, how they’ll be monitored, and how the data will be used.

Therefore, there aren’t any cons of using metal detectors in schools.

What is the difference between metal detectors and weapon detection systems?

Legacy metal detectors don’t differentiate between weapons and other types of metal. They will go off whether the person is carrying a metal keychain or a gun.

If the walk-in legacy metal detector signals when the person walks through, they will have to empty their pockets in the tray and allow the security to check them using the handheld device. Security will have to perform this check on every alarm, causing a long waiting line and undue inconvenience to everyone. This can make things scanning impossible during high footfall periods.

WDS, on the other hand, can distinguish between weapon and non-weapon objects and alert security only when a weapon is detected.

What power requirements should schools consider for WDS implementation?

When deploying WDS in schools, it’s common to lack power outlets in ideal locations, necessitating new power runs. Typically, a 15-amp circuit supports most systems, but verification with each vendor is crucial. Ensure outlets are available on both sides of the system to eliminate trip hazards from crossing cables.

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