Friday, August 29, 2008

Emergency Alerts via Facebook/Myspace?

Some colleges are experimenting with the idea of having emergency alerts for the campus community posted on Facebook and My Space. The idea is to make social networks interactive,  allowing details about  disaster to be reported to emergency officials from "on-the-ground", "while it happens", so to speak. This was reported in an article recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But other campus officials feel that this isn't the way to go because the network then could be a conduit for wrong, false, or misleading information-and the posting of rumors- which could make a situation worse and possibly do more harm than good.

Do you think your campus should allow interactive emergency alerts?

Buz has several thoughts on this:
  • This whole business of schools feeling that they have to "alert" students immediately to a crisis is sort of going ga-ga. It started with Virginia Tech, when the campus police didn't notify the student body that two students had been found shot to death in a dorm. The idea sprung from the prevalence of cell phones, text messages, and email. Like, shouldn't we all have been told, so that................................we'd do : What?!  The campus police believed that they had a confined criminal action and even had the suspect in custody. So, what was the point in telling everyone about it, especially since a press release would be done when all the relevant facts were in (of course, they weren't). I suppose that if they thought a wild, deranged killer was on the campus (he would be back soon enough): what would they have told the huge campus to do? Run? Go Home? Go to your rooms and barricade yourselves in? It was not clear then, nor is it clear now, what, if anything could have stopped him from going to the building and opening  fire. They had no idea who they were looking for other than to "inform" the campus to "use caution".
  • Your consultant remembers the case at the College of Notre Dame last year when their new emergency notification system "worked". A woman student reported that she had been abducted and the suspect was on campus and armed. An increasingly strident and alarming number of alerts were sent to the students, at one point causing 8 women to barricade themselves in a bathroom. A huge police response followed as the alarms became more filled with impending danger. It turned out that the woman student made the whole thing up as a result of a dispute with her boyfriend. So, the electronics of the system worked, but the facts didn't warrant the panic. (By the way, betcha, 24-1, the student was NOT expelled from CND. She was probably "counseled".)
  • Then there was the case at Loyola up the street from CND. An Asian student, looking a bit like the VT guy, engaged in a "social Psychology experiment", as part of a class project,  to gauge people's reactions to unusual behavior. So he went into the Loyola dining hall dressed in fatigues, and began talking loudly to no one but himself about injuring people and destroying the school with explosives, etc. Students nearby heard this (as he planned), and called campus police who then called city police (he hadn't planned on this). Buz did not learn of the emergency alerts which went out, and has a lot of respect for Loyola management of their campus police, but can just imagine the alert and the kind of instructions which might have  gone out. It turns out that the instructor wanted the students to do minor things to disturb other people, like cutting in line, or invading another's space; it apparently never occurred to her/him that he/she should be thinking of or mentioning VT. And neither, apparently, did the student, who was Asian-looking, and wearing fatigues--just like the Virginia Tech shooter. I guess it's a good thing that Maryland has not been captured by the concealed-carry-on-campus crowd.
  • And then there was the murder of the student near Morgan several blocks away on Cold Spring Lane. The Morgan Police didn't say much when they activated the emergency notification system, except to say there was a shooting and to "use caution" or some such.
  • (Of course, these systems are good for sounding the "all clear" once a crisis is over.)
Anyway, schools have spent a lot of money on these systems since VT, but it isn't at all clear that they would be any good in a campus shooting type emergency. By its nature, an emergency is something terrible happening right now. By the time everyone got on their Blackberries and blogged about it, it would probably be rumors and misinformation; it would be good for the administration to report what they know/knew, but that's about all.

From having been involved in several emergencies (many?) during my career, I have learned that information is a precious commodity: it comes fast, furious, and is is often ever-changing and incomplete. The real challenge from the perspective of the command post is: relying only on useful confirmed information, or working to make it reliable as soon as possible. The danger of rumors or "playing around" is high. Of course, during a long-term "emergency", such as Katrina, or a blizzard, an information exchange system might be useful. But, on  balance, an authoritative source only would be best.  School can and should experiment with it a bit, but one only has to read some of the posts on your newspaper's talk forum to see the danger of allowing open, unmoderated commenting.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Peter Hermann is back!

When things were just starting to get boring around Bmore, Peter Hermann has come back from his stint in the Middle East to blog about crime in Baltimore. good! The more people talking about crime, better for all. Peter used to be the police/crime reporter in Baltimore. At one point, the Sun brought up from Florida, I think, a hotshot crime reporter named Jim Haner. But something must  have happened, because Haner kinda fizzled out and really never did much crime reporting.

Peter at least stayed with it and tried to develop sources and write some good cop stuff. I think he became a little too enamored with Commissioner Thomas Frazier, though, and his stories on Frazier programs became a little too fawning.

His newest blog leads right into the issue of street prostitution here in Bodymore. It's a problem which just doesn't seem to go away. Mostly because enforcement is non-existent and too focused on the ladies. (Not all of whom work in the evening.)

Now, Buz is not sure that legalizing prostitution is a good thing, but he does think, if it is going to be illegal, laws against it must be enforced. The only way to knock it out of a specific neighborhood (it is probably impossible to eliminate it), is very simply to target the Johns. That is, sting operations, using multiple police officers posing as prostitutes, who get solicited for money. The Johns get arrested, and their cars get towed away. Of course, it would be helpful if the judges were on board, and stopped giving PBJs out to some of these clowns. (Or maybe all of these clowns.) In addition, to the decoy squads, uniformed patrol officers, particularly on the midnight shift can easily spot trolling johns. Many of them commit traffic violations, and many have been drinking. If the word gets out that a particular neighborhood, say Pigtown, is having rigorous enforcement, the dum-dumbs might  go somewhere else. On the court end of things, a first time arrest for either prostitute of john is indicative, usually, of someone in need of help. Usually, the women are often pathetic creatures, heroin and crack addicts, with no real means of support. Typically, the guys are in it for some sort of macho thrill, and many of them are borderline sickies--at least the ones who cruise the streets looking to pickup "dates".

I think we could learn a lot from countries, such as Holland, where prostitution is legalized--though I cannot think I'd like to have it around my house. Of course, we have it already in Baltimore, not just in Pigtown, but in Hampden, Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, and all up and down Garrison Boulevard and Park Heights. OOps, and I forgot it's around beautiful, wonderful Patterson Park. In fact, walking after dark in Medfield the other day, I got waved at twice by a woman on the other side of the street. Now, of course, she was no real threat, but I felt a mite uncomfortable. Any  locations, I leave out?

There is a sex blog dedicated to the sport(?) of trolling for street walkers; just reading it for a few minutes makes you sick. Like, don't these guys have a life? Wouldn't they like a real relationship with a woman instead of this pick up stranger on the street stuff?