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?