When former police tactical trainer Paul Eckert used to drill officers on responding to active shooters, he hammered them with one big takeaway:
The human brain tends to function worse under real-life fear and extreme stress than it might during an emergency drill.
Eckert took his own observations and ideas on how panic and fear affect decision-making and turned them into a technology designed to reduce confusion in the heat of a sudden, violent event such as a mass shooting.
Or a fire, industrial explosion or chemical spill.
Working out of the Whitewater Innovation Center, Eckert has spent the past few years creating Safepro Technologies.
It’s a tech startup that he hopes to use to launch the Soteria System: a network of ceiling-mounted, laser-imaging devices that project animated, green directional arrows and red X’s on the walls in schools, office buildings and other public places where large numbers of people gather.
During an emergency such as a fire or shooting, the moving green arrows project an immediate visual cue on the walls of hallways, rooms and corridors to direct people where to evacuate.
The red X symbols warn people—teachers, students or office workers—about the location of ground zero: the area where an immediate threat exists.
The system is designed to give police or emergency responders the same cues, but it would help responders to quickly move in on the threat, such as an active shooter armed with an assault rifle.
Soteria is named after the Greek god of safety, salvation and deliverance.
Eckert now has a patent and a prototype Soteria System that is wired into a set of hallways at the Whitewater Innovation Center.
He is working to secure relationships with investors and corporate partners, and that push couldn’t be more timely as mass shootings increase across the U.S., both in frequency and in the number of people killed.
“I used to teach this stuff. I’ve felt that more of these events were going to occur, and they were going to come en masse. I started thinking about this three years ago. Now I think, ‘Thank God I did,’” Eckert said.
Under Eckert’s vision, the evacuation system would work in tandem with existing public-safety sensor technology designed to alert police and first responders of the location of dangers such as gunshots, fires, chemical spills or explosions.
Gunshot sensor technology has been used in some public schools—including in larger school districts in the Milwaukee metro area—for almost a decade.
Eckert’s system leverages sensor information collected during an emergency to give victims more time to escape and less guesswork. The lasers literally show people with visual cues the safest directions to flee or seek shelter.
In his past police training work, Eckert studied average response times for police to reach active shooter incidents.
He said it can take an average of 11 minutes after the first shot for police to eventually locate and reach a shooter.
However, most active-shooter events play out in just five to seven minutes, he said, with the bulk of the shooting happening as police are en route and working to track the location of gunshots inside a building they haven’t yet reached.
“We’re starting a new process where police find the access, they find the arrows, and now they’ve got a tactical advantage,” Eckert said.
“I love that we’re doing some help thinking for law enforcement in these situations. But when you break down active-shooter incidents, it really becomes what real-time information you can give the victims in a situation to give them more time and help to separate themselves, hide or figure how they’ll fight.”
Eckert said his main investor is a police administrator who sees promise in the Soteria System.
He has also met with public school administrators who he says believe such a system could better arm teachers and students during emergencies.
“Teachers are not tactical; they don’t want to be. It’s not what they signed up for,” Eckert said. “And school-age kids, their minds have minimal life experience. They’re just not going to be able to do well in these situations. We’re not sitting at the kitchen table talking to our kids about an active shooter. You’re not talking to strategies and how to win because it’s uncomfortable.”