et. al.: Meerkat crucial tool for terrorism & disaster response

Posted on 22nd March 2015 in et. al.

This is outside the normal scope of this blog, but so important I thought I needed to mention it.

Those with a long memory may remember that, in a prior incarnation, I pioneered using a combination of social media and mobile devices for terrorism and disaster response: releasing the Terrorism Survival Kit 12 years ago this week (!) (for “Palm OS and Microsoft PocketPC 2002 — LOL!) and in July 2006 I was user #265 for a new app called “Twitter” (see my very dated 2007 YouTube video about this app, which I said was “primarily used by kids!”).

I recognized instantly that the combination of 1) real-time and 2) location-based information could make Twitter an absolutely go-to a

Meerkat real-time video app

pp for spreading information about a terrorism attack or natural disaster. Countless disasters and terror attacks later, my prediction is now accepted fact.

I later rhapsodized about Twitvid and other apps that allowed you to also share video clips, for the same reason. However, the drawback with them was that you could only share  videos you’d prerecorded.

So, I was blown away to learn about this year’s SXSW phenom, Meerkat, which now allows you to stream live videos over Twitter.

When I talk about the role of individuals and social media in disasters I always like to talk about how actor James Woods might have prevented 9/11 if there’d only been 21st century reporting technologies (he flew with several of the bad guys in an apparent rehearsal, thought something was up because of their strange behavior, and reported them to the flight crew, but officials didn’t follow up). Think what might happen if you or I happened to be the person who saw something suspicious and used our camera to record and report it — as it happened?

A video of a disaster with the #SMEM (Social Media in Emergency Management) hashtag could be a critical tool in alerting both the public and officials.  I’ll always remember the District of Columbia’s assistant fire chief, at a Monterey conference where I spoke on this issue saying that, despite the incredible sophistication of the DC region’s emergency communications network, he’d first heard about the Holocaust Museum shootings from his daughter, who saw a Tweet about it. That incident made him a believer!

There is a major problem: taking a page from Snapchat, “the video is ephemeral, meaning it cannot be watched back and disappears once recording stops. A copy is stored on the recording phone which in theory could be uploaded elsewhere, but it won’t be seen on Meerkat again.”

Of course there’s also the critical question of whether the video was fabricated, and whether crowdsourcing might also run amok in this case, as they did in the improper identification of the Marathon bombers.  I’m definitely not saying that Meerkat videos should be THE way to document breaking news, but I do think that it bears consideration as one of many tools we need to have available in fast-paced and volatile situations.

What do you think?

Saving Lives With the Internet of Things: school lockdowns

Continuing with the meme of this morning’s post, that the real test of the IoT will be if it allows us to do something that we couldn’t do before, how about saving children’s lives as a good example of a new paradigm courtesy of the IoT?

I don’t believe in the NRA’s bizarre position that the way to avoid more school tragedies is to arm teachers (come to think of it, I don’t believe in anything the NRA proposes — if you do, sue me, I guess…) so it’s great to see that the Internet of Things (even better, a Massachusetts firm!) has stepped in with a non-violent solution allowing teachers to act immediately, without waiting for police, to protect their children.

This kind of solution is a particular passion of mine, since long-time readers of this blog know that I pioneered (as in October, 2001) using mobile devices for personal preparation for, and response to, terrorism and disaster situation.

According to Fast Company, Elerts has created Lock It Down™ and ELERTS Campus™, which allow teachers to trigger a lockdown from a smart phone or iPad app.

Among other features, Lock It Down™ includes great features for these high-pressure, instant-reaction situations:

  • Sharing: Transmits bi-directional information in seconds
  • Action: Can initiate a Lockdown with the press of a button
  • Options: Also offers Shelter in Place and Evacuate commands
  • Reporting: Text message, photos, and GPS map add context
  • Speed: Police see reports on their devices and can respond faster
  • Status: App includes “SkyWriter” for personal safety updates

Sweet!

ELERTS Campus™ is designed for colleges and larger campuses, and offers:

  • Reporting: Drop-down menu makes Report Type selection easy
  • Crowd-Sourcing: Message, photo, GPS map inform Security Dispatchers
  • Broadcast: Warnings can be broadcast to all students who use the app
  • Administration: The ELERTS EPICenter web console manages Reports
  • Alerts: ELERTS EPICenter allows 2-way chat with sender of original report
  • Virtual Monitoring: Users can activate “Escort Me” by pressing a button

These are just the kinds of tools that I dreamed of creating ten years ago, when all we had were the early Palm Pilots. What a great use of smart phones and the IoT!

The two programs are meant to be used in conjunction with the ALICE Training, as in Alert, Lock-down, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.

Download the apps:

ELERTS Campus™ for iOS
ELERTS Campus™ for Android

 

 

 

Time-critical crowdsourcing during crises

Posted on 22nd May 2013 in Homeland Security, Internet of Things

Even though I’m concentrating on the Internet of Things these days, I try to keep a hand in one of my enduring passions: using a combination of social media and mobile devices during disasters/terrorist attacks — what I call “networked homeland security.” After all, as John Arquilla has argued, we are in an era of netwars in which the enemy isn’t organized hierarchically but is networked (and, by extension natural disasters are similar: they are chaotic, opportunistic, and anything but orderly), so it takes a flexible, networked response to deal with them effectively (and, to tie in my work with the IoT, I expect that the IoT will radically increase our ability to share data and collaborate!).

Sooo, I was terribly excited to read this blog post by the brilliant Patrick Meier on how “time-critical crowdsourcing” could be used to verify critical information in near real-time during a disaster (or debunk it, in the case of erroneous information). The Patriots’ Day bombings in the Hub of the Universe underscored both the value of social media and its pitfalls, as in the case of erroneous identification of the bombers on Reddit.

Meier’s new project, Verily, will take a two-pronged approach to speed verification of data in disasters/terror attacks:

  1. time-critical mobilization & crowdsourcing. The logic is that these incidents are geographically bounded, so that people who actually are on the scene could be quickly identified through their social networks, and could use their smart-phone cameras to actually document the situation (I predicted this kind of verification in a now-laughably dated YouTube video six years ago when these cameras were first becoming widespread).
  2. the novel part is to also  crowdsource critical thinking. Meier says that Pinterest is the model for this process. “…. with each piece of content (text, image, video), users are required to add a sentence or two to explain why they think or know that piece of evidence is authentic or not. Others can comment on said evidence accordingly. This workflow prompts users to think critically rather than blindly share/RT content on Twitter without much thought, context or explanation. Indeed, we hope that with Verily more people will share links back to Verily pages rather than to out of context and unsubstantiated links of images/videos/claims, etc.”

Meier says the Verily project will try to foster this kind of critical thinking (hey, we aren’t going to do it without some guidance: my gripe with vacuous sloganeering such as DHS’ “If you see something, say something” campaign — exactly what is it that they think we might see???? Tell us, please, Sec. Napolitano, what to look for).   It will include mini-guides on information forensicsavailable to users — drawn in part from old friend Andy Carvin.

So bravo for Verily — it fascinates me that every time our mobile devices gain some new powers or some new social medium is created, bright people come up with innovative ways to crowdsource information in disasters. Verily, by adding in the important factor of critical thinking, should radically improve the quality of this information.