At a press conference last week, the FBI released photos of the two key suspects of the Boston Marathon tragedy. In an instant, the images shot across online forums, leading to an unprecedented number of images and information about suspects making its way back to the investigators. Soon, the FBI and Boston Police Department had amassed gigabytes of digital evidence -photos and videos from the public- for what may be dubbed as the world's most crowdsourced manhunt. In wake of the Boston attack, the use of futuristic technology tools has emerged more significantly than ever.
Today's modern world is confronted with an increasing number of such events that includes unnatural disasters, crises and accidents. To prevent the occurrence of any tragedy, it is essential to predict the incident before it occurs. Increasing camera surveillance-the kind that helped in locating the perpetrators of the London bombings on July 7, 2005-is one way to beef up security. However, instead of installing costly equipment, the Boston incident pointed the way to a less expensive crowdsourcing system.
Moreover, the use of predictive analytics and data mining technologies and techniques by the intelligence, counterterrorism, national security and law enforcement communities is also on a rise. In August last year, New York City began using a data aggregation and real-time analytics tool to fight crime and terror threats in the city. Known as Domain Awareness System (DAS), the tool lets officials analyze data from surveillance cameras, license plate readers, radiation detectors, 911 calls, crime reports and public safety databases. For example, if a suspicious package is discovered at any location, NYPD (New York Police Department) will be able to use DAS to retrieve archived video feeds and see how the series of events might have unfolded.
Another tool found to be effective is facial recognition technology. Earlier, facial recognition software had made news at Super Bowl, where officials announced a plan to use cameras to scan the crowds for known criminals.
In fact, the FBI has already invested roughly a billion dollars in developing NGI- Next Generation Identification - a biometrics program that is able to cross-reference photos and video footage with a massive database of 12 million images.
However, some of the biggest challenges facing public authorities are to deal with the aftermath of a major disaster. Typically, the very first hours after a crisis are spent in limiting damage and containing the number of potential victims. To get a visual control of the situation, the use of aerial drones and an aerostatic balloon equipped with infrared cameras can direct the emergency and the first aid forces to people who need it. In future, drones could possibly even detect low concentrations of explosives from high altitude.
Often, there are also challenges in managing emergency response due to lack of actionable information. During the 2005 terror attacks in London and Hurricane Katrina, a lot of time was lost due to the absence of any up-to-date information sharing between public authorities.
Meanwhile, researchers at Georgia Tech College of Computing have developed a wireless system called LifeNet. The mobile ad-hoc network is designed to assist first responders in communicating after disasters. The solution can be used in environments without Internet, cell towers or traditional landlines.
In recent times, social media too has emerged as a powerful disaster communication tool. Tools such as Google Person Finder have proved to be incredibly useful to help people find each other after a crisis. Google has even created a special page for Boston marathon victims and their loved ones.
Do share your experience of technologies that can aid in crisis management?