A US-born former rabbi who immigrated to Israel from the UK nine years ago, Yoni Sherizen, has come up with a technology that he hopes will help cut the chaos and boost safety in shooting and terrorist attacks.
The startup he co-founded with his Israeli colleague Asaf Adler, Blue Systems Ltd., has created Gabriel — inspired by the biblical guardian angel of the same name — a “smart panic-button” system, equipped with sensors, a camera and a microphone that can be installed in school and institution rooms.
When activated, either physically or via an app, the system alerts first responders to an emergency at a specific location, helps open up a communication channel with the responders and other security teams that may be at the scene, giving all parties the eyes and ears to follow unfolding events.
“We have developed a hardware and software product for an active shooter situation or other public safety threats,” said Sherizen in a phone interview with The Times of Israel.
From armored school doors, to pepper-ball guns, metal detectors and facial recognition software, schools and institutions in the US are spending tens of millions of dollars to put systems in place to protect their students, visitors and personnel, following a string of mass shootings that have raised awareness of how crucial it is to find ways of increasing security and improving emergency practices and protections.
According to HIS Markit, the marketplace for security equipment and services for the education sector in the US reached $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017, and the market is expected to reach 2.8 billion by 2021, as many schools have taken steps to put surveillance systems in place .
Not only that, synagogues and Jewish institutions in the US have been beefing up their security following a deadly attack in October on the Tree of Life Congregation that killed 11 in Pittsburgh.
It can take some 10 minutes for police to arrive at the scene of an emergency, often because they cannot be notified immediately, said Sherizen, who had the idea for his product after four people were killed in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv’s popular Sarona Market in 2016.
“These kinds of incidents generate chaos, and a key to saving lives is how people on the ground respond in the first few seconds of the unfolding events, even before the police arrive,” Sherizen said.
There is mass confusion in the critical moments of danger, and an inability to alert others and everyone of the threats.
“So, we asked ourselves, how can we create a technology that can save lives and be accessible to all?”
Whereas corporations, government and defense institutions are generally protected, the civilian population, schools and religious centers are “soft targets,” he said.
“There is a gap in protection there,” and they have limited budgets and staff.
“We saw this as both a major social need and a business opportunity.”
Gabriel comes with two apps: one for those on location — alerting them to what is happening and where, mapping out danger areas, and enabling communication with others on the premises, sharing information and video footage; and a second app, the emergency responder app, which creates a virtual command and control room for the teams approaching the area, allowing them to communicate with the local security team or individuals on the premises, getting voice and images in real time from the location, via the security cameras on site.
“By reducing confusion and chaos, you can save lives,” said Sherizen, who used to be the campus rabbi at Oxford university and then volunteered at a number of Jewish communal organizations in the US, Europe and Israel.
An emergency alert at one location can also trigger alerts to other related locations, he said, triggering alarms at neighboring schools or other premises and institutions.
The product will be released in the coming weeks, he said.
The firm will install its first 300 devices at 25 locations – schools and community centers – at large American Jewish community centers that have pre-ordered the product. The firm is also in talks with corporations in the US, he said.
Competing products at this stage are either very expensive, or old generation, and not effective but still expensive, Sherizen said.
“We want to make our product more accessible, and simple to use, with wireless systems to lower installation costs,” he said.
For some $10,000 you can get the basic Gabriel kit – which includes 10 emergency buttons, the apps, software and a year of service and training, he said.
To cover an entire school, Sherizen estimates that the cost would amount to some $30,000.
The firm’s team of advisers includes Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy director at the Mossad, Israel’s secret service; Yohanan Danino, a former Israeli police chief; Kobi Mor, a former Shin Bet security service director of overseas missions and current global director of security at Teva and Ryan Petty, the father of a Parkland school shooting victim, according to the website.