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New Acoustic Gunshot Sensor Technology Beneficial for Gunshot Victims

Acoustic gunshot sensor technology has been installed by several U.S. cities in order to accurately locate potential gunshot victims and shooting scenes, but the effectiveness of this technology for saving lives had not been analyzed until Surgeons at the University of California, San Francisco-East Bay in Oakland, California, discovered that this sensor technology may benefit shooting victims by enabling them get to the emergency room in a faster manner than they may have otherwise.

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Our key finding was that the use of these acoustic gunshot sensors showed promise as a system that may benefit gunshot victims.

Magdalene A. Brooke, MD, Key Study Author and General Surgery Resident, the University of California San Francisco-East Bay

The research was presented at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2017. Gregory P. Victorino, MD, FACS, a Professor of Clinical Surgery and Trauma Surgeon at UCSF-East Bay, was the Senior Author of the study.

Gunshot sensor technology involves sensors, fundamentally microphones, mounted on utility poles and buildings. These sensors are capable of detecting the sound waves of a gunshot, and software calculating input from a number of sensors in order to triangulate its location with a margin of error of about 80 feet.

The system can distinguish between multiple and single gunshots, and can also differentiate gunshots from fireworks and various other sounds that may trigger it. The concept here is to detect gunshots that go unreported and then provide responders with more accurate information about the point of origin than they can gather from citizens’ calls. About 90 U.S. cities make use of this technology, and Oakland’s system has been in place since the year 2006. The Study Authors stated that fewer than 20% of shots fired are reported to police.

The Researchers examined cases of 731 gunshot victims, 192 (26%) of whom were identified with acoustic sensor technology. Compared to shooting victims identified with standard policing methods, sensor-related patients were more likely to be female (20.8% vs. 12.8%, p<0.01), have higher injury severity scores (13.8 vs. 10.7, p<0.01), spend an increasing number of days on mechanical ventilation (1.2 days vs. 0.7, p<0.05) and also more time in the hospital (8.4 days vs. 5.7, p<0.01), and were more likely to need an operation (44.8 percent vs. 35.6 percent, p=0.03). However, the difference in mortality was not statistically important: 12% for sensor-related victims and 10.2% for others (p=0.49).

We found that gunshot victims whom we could connect to a gunshot sensor activation experienced decreased prehospital time and emergency medical service on-scene times compared with those who were presumably discovered due to standard policing methods. These patients also experienced a similar mortality to the control group despite having higher injury severity scores, suggesting that this method of alerting police may lead to better than expected outcomes.

Magdalene A. Brooke, MD, Key Study Author and General Surgery Resident, the University of California San Francisco-East Bay

However, Dr. Brooke emphasized that the study results do not explain why.

The sensor technology does not essentially change the manner in which trauma centers receive notification of gunshot victims, Dr. Brooke said, but she further added that, “our study shows that the use of gunshot sensor technology by police may help paramedics treat and transport these patients to the hospital more rapidly.”

Stefania Kaplanes, MSW, who is the Co-author, is a Trauma Prevention Manager for Alameda Health System in the East Bay area of California.

“FACS” entitles that a surgeon is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

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