The Real Reason People Don't Report Gunshots

Why Don't We Get More Reports?
Americans are more cognizant of the threat of gun violence in public spaces now more than ever. However as often as we hear news stories about acts of gun violence, many gunshots are heard yet go unreported daily. The real reason? In many cases, people don’t actually know what they heard. While police officers and other security professionals are trained to recognize the sound of gunshots, the general public can easily confuse them. This is especially true in bustling urban areas where loud, unique sounds are abundant. Fireworks, cars that backfire, and even blown transformers all trigger explosive sounds reminiscent of gunshots. This makes it easy to write actual gunshots off as something less threatening. After all, who prefers to assume the worst when it's easy to find alternative explanations for these sounds that trigger fear?

Technology Matters
As a first responder, the only way you can effectively address gun violence in your community is if you know about it when it happens. When you actually receive reports of gunshots, you always run the risk of pouring your resources into responding to false alarms simply because the caller might have mistaken the sound. The human ear will never be a particularly credible source. That’s where modern technology saves the day. Today’s gunshot detection technology ensures gunshots can’t happen in your community without you knowing about them. It surpasses the capabilities of the human ear by recognizing the unique acoustic signatures of gunshots. The threat detection data such technology collects makes it easy to identify patterns of gun violence and areas of particular concern. Additionally, technology enables first responders to save time and become more effective in crime prevention. Simply put, technology is your sidekick in efficiency and efficacy.

Distinguished Sound
Even with technology, it’s still important to know how to differentiate gunshots from other sounds. Imagine trying to decipher the sound of gunshots during a Fourth of July firework display if you weren’t a first responder. It would be quite tricky. Knowing the difference between the two is undoubtedly challenging for people with limited exposure to gunshots. It can even be challenging when you do have training. As previously suggested, you can’t count on the human ear for accuracy 100% of the time. However there are a few distinct characteristics that define these sounds. So what sets gunshots apart?

  1. A deep, prolonged echo...
    Fireworks trigger a brief sound while the sound of a gunshot has a prolonged echo.
  2. Precision
    Gunshots have a sharp, consistent sound. Firework explosions on the other hand sound disorderly in nature, and they produce mixed sounds and noise levels when exploding.
  3. High-pitched
    Fireworks produce a low-pitched booming sound while gunshots are high-pitched with a clang.

Since not all guns sound the same, it is important to remember that these are general characteristics to listen for. One thing remains certain though; gunshot detection technology can help first responders be more effective in the communities they serve. To learn more, check out our recent blog on gun violence trends and security technology in the United States.

Breaking Sound Barriers

Breaking Barriers

The speed of sound is fast, but bullets move faster. In fact, bullets can move fast enough to break the sound barrier. Contrary to what the name might suggest, the sound barrier is not an actual wall or barrier. Rather, it is the hypothetical limit to the speed an object can travel before it exceeds the speed of sound. Traveling at the speed of sound might sound like an abstract concept, but the key to breaking the sound barrier is found in the relationship between sound and speed.  


The Speed of Sound Explained

Sound is caused by vibrations that travel in the form of waves (i.e. sound waves). Temperature and air density influence the speed of sound waves, but they move at 1125 fps assuming an average temperature of 68° fahrenheit. This works out to 761 mph at sea level. Keep in mind that the speed of sound becomes slower at higher altitudes due to air molecules moving at a slower rate as temperatures lower. Essentially, the speed of sound becomes faster the higher the temperature goes. 


Bullets have the ability to travel up to twice the speed of sound. Their speed is influenced by multiple factors including the size of the gun and bullet type. The speed of a standard bullet can be broken down into three categories: 


  • Subsonic – Slower than the speed of sound (under 900 fps at sea level)
  • Transonic – Approaching the speed of sound (900-1100 fps at sea level)
  • Supersonic – Traveling faster than the speed of sound (1100 fps + at sea level)


When an object such as the aircraft visualized below moves faster than the speed of sound (i.e. supersonic) and thus breaks the sound barrier, those waves spread rapidly to create an elongated cone of shock waves that trail behind the object. This wave triggers a sonic boom which is the explosive sound heard as the object passes through the barrier. Bullets moving at supersonic speeds trigger particularly jarring sounds because of the sonic boom they cause. 

Aircraft Breaking the Sound Barrier

Aircraft Breaking the Sound Barrier
Source: Boom Supersonic


Guns, Planes, and More

While guns have been breaking the sound barrier for ages, the world learned people could break it too on October 14, 1947 when pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in his aircraft lovingly named “Glamorous Glennis.” Breaking the sound barrier does not cause harm to the object or person passing through it despite the powerful sound. Between aircrafts and guns, this is a regular phenomenon. In fact, the sound barrier has been broken using surprising objects like ping pong balls! 


Exceptional Accuracy

Our Acoustic Threat Detection (ATD) technology monitors the acoustic signatures of the sound waves in the environment where it is utilized. The ballistic sound wave formed when the sound barrier is broken by a bullet in motion is what distinguishes gunshots from other sounds. ATD recognizes this ballistic soundwave and can identify bullets moving at subsonic, transonic, and supersonic speeds. To learn more about how ATD works, check out our latest video.

Boosting Intelligence with Data

Data is what makes ACOEM’s Acoustic Threat Detection (ATD) technology tick.

The more data its AI collects, the more intelligent and accurate it gets. Back in August, our ATD team took a trip to Louisiana to put our technology to use for this very reason. We set-up shop in a small town in eastern Louisiana and conducted ATD tests for two days. Using four different sensors and a variety of guns, we captured tracking data and a few unique scenarios. We’ve recapped our experience in this video and our recent white paper. Check them out to learn more about our experience, and feel free to connect with us if you have questions.

Run, Hide, Fight

If you were faced with an active shooter today, what would you do?

This type of question might be unsettling to consider, but having an answer to it can mean the difference between life or death in the event of an emergency. Active shooter plans are an integral part of any security program. Not only do you need to have a plan in place, but you need to continuously optimize the plan you have. However, we know just getting started on a plan can be tough particularly when there are many moving parts. Let’s break down some tips and considerations shared by FEMA to take into account when planning and responding.


During an active shooter event, knowing where to turn and who to turn to is paramount. Who should the people you are protecting count on to take charge? Where can they exit to safety? Start by making note of key personnel, their contact information, and any special support they can provide during an emergency. Create a map of your facility featuring all the exits, and make it available to all stakeholders. Additional tips to consider when planning:

  • The public establishments you are familiar with might already have active shooter plans in place. Familiarize yourself with these plans and best practices. 
  • Research training options. FEMA offers a course titled “You Are the Help Until Help Arrives,” and these words couldn’t ring truer.


Decisions have to be made quickly in the midst of an active shooter event, so your preparation will go a long way. You’ll want to call 911 as soon as it is safe to do so. Remember your plan and consider the immediate options you have as the situation unfolds. Experts recommend following the “run, hide, fight” chain of response.

  • Run: First and foremost, run to flee the location of the threat. Prioritize getting to safety.
  • Hide: If running is not an option for any reason, locate a secure hiding spot. 
  • Fight: If there are no viable hiding options, you’ll need to be ready to take the shooter down by any means possible whether that means tackling, throwing objects, or using makeshift weapons. Once law enforcement arrives, be sure to follow their instructions.

Lastly, do your best to remain calm and level-headed no matter how the situation unfolds. It might be easier said than done, but maintaining your composure will enable you to make wise decisions quickly and perhaps provide help to those around you. Panic will only hinder your ability to think clearly. 

For more information on developing your own active shooter plan, download our poster or connect with us to learn more.

Unpacking ATD's Rich History

It’s no secret that Acoustic Threat Detection (ATD) was born from a long history of technology innovation.

We began using our technology to protect French armed troops on the frontlines in the 90’s, and it has come a long way over the years. It began with an algorithm that led to the first iteration of our ATD technology back in 1995. Here’s a summary of the timeline that led to ATD being used for civilian and security applications today:

  • 1995: Our gunshot detection technology, initially known as PILAR, was created for UN vehicles passing through the infamous Sniper Alley in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. The system was composed of four microphones and had 360 degree surveillance. PILAR proved to be an asset to the UN, which led to France using it to protect its commands stationed in Bosnia during the war.
  • 1999: The United States army took interest in acoustic threat detection technology. PILAR as a COTS product was chosen by the U.S. after being evaluated against global competitors. It was first deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
  • 2006: The fourth generation of PILAR was developed for a more compact piece of equipment. Similar to ATD’s ability to track gunshots today, this enhancement included the ability to update shooter coordinates in relation to the military vehicle PILAR was attached to. 
  • 2013: We developed an even more compact version of PILAR that was designed to fit onto weapons. This version known as PEARL was just as successful as the technology iterations before it. 
  • 2015: PILAR V was developed. The algorithms behind the technology were enhanced for better recognition of firearms and the distance traveled by projectiles. Drones and helicopter arrivals could now be detected, too. 

Flash forward to today, and the innovation hasn’t stopped. PILAR technology has evolved into ATD, a revolutionary security tool designed to support the fight against gun violence in civilian communities. ATD technology and our overall detection capabilities will continue to evolve over the coming months and years in our quest to create safer communities and smart cities. In the meantime, we are excited to bring acoustic threat detection from the frontlines to the community you call home.

Creating a Clearer Sky With ClearWorld

We’re on a mission to secure a safer world, and we know that combating gun violence is just one piece of the puzzle.

As a company, ACOEM is devoted to offering environmental friendly solutions that create sustainable communities for a healthier environment. That’s why we’re proud to partner with ClearWorld, a leading renewable energy systems provider. ClearWorld produces outdoor lighting systems using cutting edge solar LED technology. Their light poles are of particular note. Our Acoustic Threat Detection (ATD) technology can be integrated into ClearWorld’s poles for a comprehensive solution to protect people and the community they inhabit. These aren’t ordinary light poles, though. They come in a wide range of polished styles with technology that reduces CO2 emissions by 4,500 lbs. annually, lowers energy costs, and more. The benefits don’t stop there. One of the many benefits of ClearWorld poles is reduced light pollution, an issue affecting all of us whether we realize it or not. It may seem strange to think of light as a form of pollution, but it’s easy to see with a quick glance at the night sky.

Depending on where you live, the night sky can look quite different. If you live in a suburban or city setting, you might see few to no stars. However, you may see countless stars against a jet black backdrop in rural areas. Even then you aren’t likely getting the full picture of what the night sky could look like. The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) defines light pollution as being the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light involving. This excess lighting clutters the night sky with a glare that reduces visibility. In fact, research published in Science Advances explains that one-third of the world cannot see the Milky Way. In the pictures below, IDA shows us an image taken of the night sky over a town experiencing a blackout next to that same shot taken during normal times. 

Light pollution harms more than just the viewing experience in the nighttime sky. IDA’s site shares a few of the harmful effects of light pollution:

  • Increased energy consumption
  • Disturbing the normal behaviors of ecosystems and wildlife when the difference between day and night is diminished due to excess light
  • Disrupted circadian rhythms in humans which leads to a myriad of negative health effects

ClearWorld’s light poles are IDA approved for their ability to reduce light pollution. If you combine our ATD technology with ClearWorld’s poles, you give your community safety in all senses, not to mention a darker sky. Afterall, who doesn’t love a starry night sky? For more information on ClearWorld’s innovations, check out our Smart City Podcast to listen to our recent conversation with ClearWorld CEO Larry Tittle. 

Solving for Safety Solutions

Gun violence trends have shown a stark increase in recent years. Between mass shootings and small-scale gun violence, everyday places have become subject to unexpected attacks. We’ve seen this in schools such as Sandy Hook, universities like Virginia Tech, entertainment venues like the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a Walmart in El Paso, workplaces like the Virginia Beach municipal building, and more. What does this all add up to? Let’s take a look at some stats shared by Giffords and the Gun Violence Archive:

  • 38,000 Americans die from gun violence annually. This works out to 100 per day.
  • More than 1 million Americans have been victims of gun violence in the past 10 years. 
  • In 2020 alone, there have already been over 400 mass shootings and over 14,000 gun violence deaths in total (including homicide, accidents, and self-defense).

With these figures in mind, many government agencies and independent organizations are exploring ways to combat this progressively increasing trend. Police departments are especially challenged with identifying solutions, particularly since there has been a push for hands-off policing in recent times. Most of us are familiar with community programs focused on addressing gun violence concerns, but many are now looking for ways to capitalize on technology in an effort to deter gun violence. Gunshot detection technology is one such solution that has been put into practice across numerous cities today. Smart guns designed to prevent illegal firearm usage through a security lock only the authorized firearm owner can unlock are another potential solution. This works in the same way a smartphone user would unlock a cellphone using a fingerprint or passcode. However, Smart Guns are only available abroad today and require continued research and buy-in before they can move beyond the conceptual phase in the United States. On the other hand, some public establishments follow a relatively traditional approach to gun violence prevention by implementing entryway barriers. Similar to any TSA checkpoint, these barriers are manned by security guards who scan visitors with a magnetometer or other X-ray technology to detect hidden weapons. This solution is frequently found in corporate offices and government buildings, but it does require security staff to be on hand during all hours of operation. 

One thing is for certain, and it’s that technology in the security realm is constantly evolving. Security professionals are challenged with staying up-to-date and continuously optimizing their security protocols. Taking the time to ensure you’re utilizing the best tools and resources available is essential, and your community will be safer for it.