Health Sciences Centre to pilot AI weapon detection to address rising violence

Shared Health is installing an AI weapon detection system at the entrance to facilities at Manitoba’s Health Sciences Centre as it moves toward addressing a series of violent incidents at the downtown Winnipeg facilities.

The provincial health-care authority said the detectors will be placed at the emergency department and at the Crisis Response Centre as part of a new pilot starting later this month that will run for several weeks. They will not be metal detectors, but scan people using artificial intelligence.

“There are big advantages for us and one is the level of intrusiveness,” said Dr. Shawn Young, chief operating officer at the HSC. “If you’re using metal detector technology, it means you have to pause, you need to take all the metal out. You could cause a backlog and a wait as well.”

The pilot would make the HSC a pioneer for the use of this technology in health-care settings. It would become the second Canadian hospital which has had such devices — already in place in facilities like Princess Auto Stadium — installed at its emergency department entrances.

The Windsor Regional Hospital has had AI detectors at its doors for almost a year. Officials there have been advising the HSC on standards of practice for the devices, Young said.

The emergency department “is a high-risk area,” said Michael Broderick, manager of safety and security at the Windsor, Ont., hospital.

Man with dark hair and a beard stands in green hospital scrubs and a white coat.
‘There are big advantages for us and one is the level of intrusiveness,’ Dr. Shawn Young, chief operating officer of Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, says. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“Having that layer of security has been really well received by the staff, also by the public.”

Broderick said that the system has been able to detect more than 1,800 knives and edged weapons over the last nine months.

Technology not there yet, analyst says

But some security analysts aren’t convinced the technology is sophisticated enough to do what it promises.

“The idea is to take something that most people don’t like … and to make it more convenient,” said Conor Healy, director of government research with IPVM, a research firm covering security technology.

“The problem is that the technology has not been able to achieve this.”

Evolv Technologies, a sector leader with hundreds of clients in the sports, casino, education and health-care sectors, has run afoul of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission after it allegedly exaggerated claims about its products’ capabilities.

In New York, the Utica School System got rid of its system after a student at a high school managed to get a knife through, and stabbed a classmate during a fight.

Healy said that while other companies are more honest about their technical challenges, they all share similar functional issues.

“I saw that [HSC] said the detection system does not require the removal of keys, cell phone, belts or shoes prior to being scanned,” Healy said.

“Either that’s true and they have it at such a low sensitivity setting that one could question its purpose for being there at all, or it’s not true and the hospital is either being lied to or knows that it is repeating … misleading marketing claims.”

Peter Evans, CEO and director of Xtract One, an Ontario-based company also selling AI weapon detection, said that anyone who claims to “catch all weapons” is not fully being transparent.

“The results and performance of any system is highly dependent on the settings for the system, the environment, proper use,” the email said, adding that his products have been certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and tested by multiple government agencies. Xtract One wouldn’t confirm or deny whether the company is involved with the Manitoba pilot project.

‘Just one more tool,’ hospital says

A device with the 'Evolv' company logo.
Evolv Technologies has run afoul of U.S. regulators. Some security analysts aren’t convinced the technology is sophisticated enough to do what it promises. (Youtube/Evolv Technology)

Windsor Regional Hospital, which uses an Evolv system, said the machine has limitations, but that anyone who uses the technology must build a “proper process” around it.

“It’s not as easy as just picking a machine up and dropping it into the emergency department and saying, OK, you’re safe now,” Broderick said, adding that, to his knowledge, no one has been able to pass a weapon through the system since it was installed.

He said the system does get “false alerts” but that the short time it takes to “look in somebody’s purse or ask them to empty their pockets on a table” is worth it.

Shared Health said a few companies will be participating on the pilot, but that they all share similar technology, and that testing out the equipment will come at no cost to the health authority. Neither of the companies use facial recognition, Young said.

Young said Shared Health has done other work to enhance security at the hospital, including increased patrols in and out the facility, extra cameras and panic alarms.

“This is just one more tool that we’re bringing to improve our safety,” he said.

Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara said that’s just one step to improving security at the hospital.

“There is no end point,” they said. “We’re going to continue to listen to health-care workers and take action so that they feel safer in their workplaces.”

Asagwara said other hospitals may see similar measures in the future.

Shared Health said it plans to put the detectors after its amnesty lockers so people can deposit any items there they don’t want the system to pick up.