"Dad, the Whole School's on Lockdown"

By Arlene King posted 09-07-2012 12:34


A parent's nightmare showed me exactly how and why public safety communications must adapt with the times.

Reposting of blog by Paul Steinberg, the Chief Technology Officer at Motorola Solutions, Inc.

People communicate naturally in different ways. An entire generation now uses a paradigm that didn’t exist five years ago. This was brought home to me in a way I’ll never forget.

My daughter, then a senior in high school, sent me a text: her school was in a hard security lockdown. I texted back asking what was happening. She replied that she didn’t know and couldn’t see anything; she was in an inside room, out of the line of sight of the door window, not allowed to talk, and the lights were off.  We kept texting and finally she sent the message: “OK the police are here.” Shortly after, she was able to text to me that a SWAT team was in the building.

My first reaction was relief of course, but my next was anger. How did she suddenly know all this information?  I thought she must be doing something dangerous, like leaving the room and looking out the window. When we talked later, she said no, one of her friends was in the science room with an outside window and she was taking pictures with her smartphone and posting them to Facebook. Another friend was overlooking the foyer and doing the same.

Two things struck me about this. First, these kids had the capacity to collect and share information in real time that public safety didn’t have – information that would be hugely beneficial if public safety did have it.  Second, they did all this on their own. Sharing information about events around them with the very powerful technology at their disposal (smartphones, wireless broadband, and social networking) is their perfectly normal response when something happens. This is how the public will collaborate in the future. Our agencies must adapt to meet the expectations of these connected citizens and take full advantage of the opportunity to tap into their constant flow of information – information that is often trivial, but sometimes has the potential to save lives.

In my daughter’s case, a man had called the school to say he was coming there with a gun to **** himself. He never made it to the school, but the experience was unnerving. When we talk about building safer cities and thriving communities, I think of those high school kids. Sure, they have powerful technology in their hands – but what’s more important is that they can be counted on to use it, even during an emergency. Especially in an emergency. If we can patch them through to the PSAP via NG9-1-1, pick out the important and relevant data, and send that data back out to the field in real time, then our first responders can proceed with additional intelligence and ultimately act more effectively to get those kids home safe.

Read the collection of Steinberg’s blogs here. 

Reposted from “Fresh Ideas in Public Safety” Blog by  Paul Steinberg on Aug 29, 2012 8:01:19 AM