Friday, May 30, 2008

Crime 2.0: Twitter in a Security Scare

I just saw over at the Bellman that the Austin Police Department has a Twitter account, which reminds me of a post I recently saw at the Chronicle of Higher Education by Catherine Rampell (reg'n req'd) which discussed how Twitter allowed people to stay informed during a lockdown due to a possible active shooter.

[The presentation was] interrupted about halfway through by a very strange and frightening series of events.

It started with the director of the Help Desk at [University of Richmond] coming into the computer lab where the presentation was being held asking us to turn off the lights, remain quiet, and lock the door....

After... some fumbling with cell phones, e-mail logins, and the like, it was quickly determined that there was a suspicious individual at-large on campus and he is believed to armed and possibly dangerous.

It was at that moment that someone remarked, “not again,” and I... remembered the insane reports from VA Tech just over a year ago...

What followed was pretty surreal. We all sat in the computer lab nervously talking, some suggesting those of us closer to the door move to the front of the room, and others calling out any information they might have received via e-mail...

I went immediately to Twitter... I started tweeting what was going on... and I found the act to be really soothing.

People at [the University] were sharing information and giving advice to one another, while the larger network from around the world was sending regards, prayers, questions, and their well wishes.

I had a very powerful sense that those “others” were there with us from beyond that lab, or even the [University of Richmond] campus. I can’t fully explain why that felt so good, someone even offered a Safety dance from abroad, nothing like a laugh during a moment of untold strangeness

After about a half hour (I think we were in lockdown for over two hours, but I am really not sure about this, time kinda stood still and flew by all at once) there was a certain amount of talking that at times seemed to get a bit loud. And I got my first experience with how truly crazy a tense, potentially life threatening situation can radically impact a dynamic amongst fifteen or twenty people stuck in a room together.

I kept thinking of Stephen King’s novella The Mist the whole time, just wondering what the hell is out there, and how it will get us. One of the group said tensely that we were ordered to be quiet, and if the situation is as serious as it seems shouldn’t we be quiet. I appreciated this statement, it manifested the anxiety many of us felt, yet at the same time I felt suffocated by it. The idea that we might be in danger was exactly what I didn’t want to think about.

|Bestiaries, Lockdown, and Twitter - bavatuesdays| (emphasis added)
It's natural for people to seek information, we do it constantly, but information-seeking takes on extra urgency in times of peril.

Unfortunately, information is often least available during a crisis. That is when events outpace reporting, when the cell phone system is overwhelmed and command-and-control systems are hamstrung by a cascade of unforeseen consequences.

So it's interesting that Twitter was able to fill an information void due to its ephemeral nature.

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