In October, Eugene’s Hult Center for the Performing Arts leased AI-powered security scanners for $170,000 a year to “ensure a secure environment.” However, the Massachusetts corporation that created the magnetometers, Evolv Technology, is now under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly misrepresenting its product’s capabilities.
Internet Protocol Video Market, a research group that analyzes security and surveillance technology, found in December 2022 that Evolv had paid the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, a government-funded academic center, an estimated $20,000 to doctor the results on its product testing.
When asked if he was aware of the FTC’s investigation or IPVM’s report before leasing the devices on Aug. 30, Hult Center General Manager Jeff Weinkauf said he wasn’t.
“In our research, we noted that Evolv was widely used by facilities doing similar work and came highly recommended by those groups,” Weinkauf says. “One of the most attractive elements was that the system could support ingress of large crowds in a short time which met our goal of limiting impact on our attendees.”
According to Weinkauf, he was able to see how Evolv operates at the Cuthbert Amphitheater. Both the Cuthbert and the McDonald Theatre also use Evolv magnetometers.
IPVM found in its Dec. 6, 2022, report that NCS4 allowed Evolv “to set evaluation criteria, extensively redline the final released report and cover up testing failures in its weapons detection system used in schools, museums, theme parks, stadiums and other venues across the U.S.”
According to a May article in The Intercept, the Utica School District in New York installed Evolv Technology scanners in 13 schools. School authorities noted that the magnetometers, which the district spent $4 million on, have allowed knives and a police officer’s revolver through without flagging them. One student was able to carry a knife past the scanners on Oct. 31, 2022, and stabbed a fellow student.
Although there was no one incident that inspired the use of the security scanners at the Hult Center, Weinkauf says, “Having a plan that is just based around hope and the goodwill of people in our area is not enough.”
Weinkauf says he worries about large gathering spaces such as performing arts centers being considered “softer targets,” and he hopes that recent security upgrades can mitigate this danger.
“People place a lot of trust in us when they come here,” Weinkauf says. “We just want to make sure that we’re as safe as possible, that we’re doing our due diligence to provide a safe place for everyone.”
When something is flagged by the magnetometers, the patron is asked to visit the resolution table where they can be manually checked for weapons or prohibited paraphernalia. Thus far, Weinkauf says, the Evolv scanners have stopped off-duty police officers carrying firearms and some people with forgotten pocket knives. Weinkauf says that the Hult Center team is able to limit wait time at the resolution table to under a minute, especially when the system flags a false positive.
“Evolv was never presented to us as a single solution to all of our screening needs,” Weinkauf says. “Additionally, we use Evolv in a multi-layered approach and do not rely solely on its technology to secure our facility.”
In addition to installing Evolv scanners, the Hult Center has also upgraded from its previous 12 security cameras to more than 40 HD cameras placed internally and externally, Weinkauf says.
“The posture is not ‘We’re watching you,’” he says. “It’s more ‘We want to provide a space where people can feel completely welcome and as safe as possible, within reason, to come and have great experiences.’”
Weinkauf says that, as of now, he and the Hult Center are comfortable with the use of Evolv.
“I would absolutely be looking into any of those allegations,” he says. “We would do our due diligence and follow up.”