What Can We Learn from Recent Acts of Terrorism?

Picture of Todd Piett By Todd Piett

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Recent acts of terrorism

Recent acts of terrorism around the world highlight the valuable roll technology can play in emergency response, while also identifying areas for improvement.

Social Media for Mass Communications in Orlando

During the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, social media played a powerful role in communication for the city police department and the nightclub owners.  Approximately 11 minutes into the shooting, Pulse posted an urgent message on their Facebook page telling people to get out of the club “and keep on running.”

While I don’t know if this message was successful in notifying those unaware of the shooting, the situation is eerily reminiscent of the Bataclan theatre massacre in Paris, last November when three terrorists stormed the historical venue with high-powered assault rifles, shooting everyone in their path.  For the people trapped inside the Bataclan, Facebook became a communication lifeline.

In addition to Facebook, Twitter has proven an effective tool during a widespread emergency.  For instance, the Orlando PD used Twitter multiple times throughout the night to post warnings and share updates with on-lookers, victims, and the general public.  At 3:58am, or about 2 hours into the shooting, Orlando PD tweeted, telling everyone to stay away from the area.  In a clearly well-coordinated operation, at 5:05 am, just as an explosion was detonated inside the building, Orlando PD posted to Twitter stating the loud noise was a controlled explosion and to “Please avoid reporting inaccuracies at this time.”

At Rave, our emergency mass notification product, Rave Alert, is regularly used to programmatically post to various social media sites utilized by our customers.  Over time, this has become a pretty standard process; however, the close coordination between the communication team handling social media and the tactical teams during the Orlando response is a great learning point for all agencies.

recent acts of terrorism

Facebook Safety Check in Nice, France

The Facebook Safety Check is a feature that has allowed individuals to connect with friends and loved ones during recent acts of terrorism. The social communication feature was initiated and used extensively during the Bastille Day attacks in Nice, France.  This event marked a change to the criteria which Facebook uses to initiate the feature.  Here’s how Facebook Safety Check works:

  • The feature is quickly activated by Facebook in the wake of a natural or man made disaster.
  • Upon activation, users in the designated incident area or those who have listed that area in their profile, receive a Facebook notification asking if they’re safe.
  • Users have the option to respond stating they are outside the affected area or “I’m Safe”. The response generates a notification and is added to the users’ News Feed, which can be viewed by friends. Friends can also mark other users as safe.

At present, public safety agencies have no means to solicit Facebook to turn on the check-in feature for emergencies.  Facebook alone determines which events are worthy of activating Safety Check.

Facebook Safety Check can be valuable providing comfort to loved ones. It also can reduce the burden on already overloaded public safety communications infrastructure.  By reducing calls to 9-1-1 (or 112 in this case) that deflect critical resources and reducing the number of individuals that “self dispatch” to check on loved ones, the safety of everyone involved can be improved.

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Other interesting “check in” type technologies that have the potential to provide visibility into the safety and status of friends in a more dynamic manner include:

  • Glympse - simple way to share your location in real time with friends and family
  • Life360 - a family locator, messaging tool and communication app all in one
  • Rave Guardian - create a location-aware virtual safety network of friends, family, and police

Digital Floor Plan Access During Stand-offs

Unlike most Active Shooter events over the past 2 decades, the recent acts of terrorism at the Pulse Nightclub and Dallas, TX involved protracted stand-offs.  Initial reports had the Dallas shooter holed up in a parking structure. However, subsequent reports made it clear that 25-year-old Micah Johnson had moved to an El Centro Community College building in downtown Dallas.  For about 4½ hours, Johnson hid around a corner near the end of a long, narrow hallway of classrooms on the second floor of El Centro’s Building B. While navigating toward him, police attempted to negotiate before finally killing him with an explosive delivered by a robot.

Similarly, in Orlando, police actively negotiated with the shooter, Omar Mateen, for nearly 40 minutes between 2:48 and 3:24 am.  They then began a series of maneuvers, which helped some trapped victims to escape and culminated when officers breached the building and killed the shooter at 5:15 am.

After the events, images of both crime scenes show investigators consulting floor plans as they gather evidence.  I couldn’t help but wonder how they got those floor plans.  In Dallas, police from El Centro Community College were actively engaged in the incident and surely provided some level of tactical intelligence. However, I’d be very surprised if during the traumatic events occurring in the middle of the night in the Orlando nightclub, the officers had anything more than spotty descriptions of the building interior provided by distraught witnesses.  These events demonstrate the importance of providing tactical intelligence before dangerous situations unfold.

Smart911Facility, for example, securely hosts thousands of floor plans for various structure types across the US. Launched in 2015, Smart911Facility ensures facility information is readily available to responders directly in the field on their mobile data computers (MDCs) and phones.  Because building owners manage Smart911Facility information themselves the model is scalable. It ensures agencies and first responders have floor plans for an entire property, right down to individual units (or nightclubs).

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While technology advancements can present challenges to 9-1-1 and first responders (such as the 47% of cellphone-only households in the United States), it’s important we take advantage of modern tools to facilitate response and communication during a crisis. For instance, consider using social media for mass communication, and equipping responders with essential facility information to heighten field awareness (thus improving responder safety) and reduce the overall response time.

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Written by Todd Piett

Todd Piett joined Rave in 2005 and today runs the global organization that has its technology deployed at thousands of colleges, universities, businesses and communities. Prior to joining Rave, Todd was responsible for launching new products for Unica Corporation where he helped drive their successful IPO. Previously, Todd was VP of Product and Marketing for iBelong, a portal provider targeting affinity organizations and a Program Manager at Dell Computer where he launched Dell’s branded ISP. Todd graduated with honors from the United States Military Academy at West Point and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. After graduation from West Point he served 7 years in the US Army as an aviation officer.

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