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Unleashing Crowdsourcing for Airport Security teams

Whether it’s perimeter breaches, weaponized computer laptops, bomb threats, terminal evacuations, rogue employees or active shooters, airport security is in the news weekly. Airports are targets. They face increasingly complex security concerns, declining security budgets and slow moving government roadmaps to modernize the security infrastructure. In other words, this is a perfect storm for disaster to strike.

Airport security challenges include:

  • Public and sterile areas to protect…
  • Internal and external threats…
  • Determined terrorists with evolving tactics…
  • Many entities, vendors and customers, plus, lots of territory to protect.

Like a sucker punch from behind, you cannot stop what you can’t see. Situation awareness is crucial to airport security teams. They must be able to quickly observe, detect and mitigate a threat. Security can’t respond until they know where response is needed. Even 30 seconds of early warning can change the outcome of an airport attack. But cameras, TSA and police are spread thin; they cannot do it all, alone.

See Something Say Something (SSSS) is a great slogan
SSSS public safety announcements continuously ask the public to get involved, but do not say how to do so, in ways we are likely to comply with. We all want to help keep transportation safe, but many people will not call 911 or approach a police officer. We’re all busy, in a hurry, and we don’t want to get pulled into something that might delay us.

It’s time to make SSSS more actionable…
The technology is here. It is easy to use. It is proven effective and the cost is low. Airports today can empower thousands of workers, vendors, drivers and customers to report a security concern discreetly in 20 seconds, by using a smartphone app.

ELERTS See Say is a crowdsourced incident-reporting mobile app that is already deployed at 16 transportation agencies. Safety and security concerns are reported with smartphones daily, helping to keep the system safe for everyone.

transits

Airport security teams can be more effective by deploying an early-warning tool that improves public safety. Crowdsourcing enables EVERYONE at an airport to enhance safety: Airport employees, contractors, vendors, drivers and the traveling public. ELERTS See Say is a simple to use solution for reporting suspicious activity and other security concerns.

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 Budget Friendly and Lean

TSA and GAO want airport security solutions that are cost effective and have evidential proof of results. ELERTS See Say is a proven solution that is easy to use and can be deployed in 30 days. ELERTS web-based management console provides security dispatchers with real-time alerts from app users who notice something that just doesn’t look right. In less than 20 seconds, an app user can send an information payload with a description of their concern, a photo or video, and the GPS location of where the problem is occurring. They can send anonymously if they wish. “Heads up, take a look at this” …

Unleash the Crowd!!

dog

K9 units at airports serve a single important purpose, sniff and detect explosive substances. People cannot smell explosive traces in the air, but people do notice and report many different types of threats using ELERTS incident-reporting mobile app. We love dogs, but the ELERTS See Say app adds thousands of people to your security team for less than the cost of one K9 unit. Unleash the defensive security weapons already present in your airport, the thousands of people who can enhance safety by providing early warning to incoming threats.

Safe travels!

 

How to Fix See Something Say Something to Enhance Public Safety

What is great about See Something Say Something (SSSS) campaigns is how heavily they are advertised and promoted. Nearly everyone – especially in urban areas – has seen multiple posters, videos, TV commercials or heard audio public-service-announcements (PSA). SSSS is plastered all over airports and transit systems because public transportation is a known high-value target of terrorists.

 

The SSSS message is easy to understand. We know what is being asked of us: if we see or hear something suspicious, report it to authorities or to someone who can do something about it. This is now accepted as our civic duty, as the rise in attacks has made it necessary for the public to be directly involved in public safety.

 

But how do we do SSSS? This is where the unfulfilled potential of SSSS campaigns strikes a nerve. Posters and announcements usually tell people to call 911 or tell a policeman if you have seen or heard suspicious activity. These reporting methods are too overbearing on the general public. People will not comply if it puts them at risk or inconveniences them. People are in a hurry, especially when they are in transit, coming or going somewhere. No one wants to miss their train, bus or plane.

 

Sub-911 incidents need too be reported, too

 

“Sub-911” incidents are things that may not seem like an immediately obvious security or safety threat, like suspicious activity. Unless it is a really serious incident, such as a car crash, bullets are flying or an explosion, people don’t want to call 911 and be interviewed on a recorded line by a police dispatcher. People know that once you make that call, you are ‘in it’. You will be questioned and perhaps asked for your personal information as part of the recorded data, so police can contact you. Just speaking to a police operator can seem intimidating to some.

 

Texting a tip to a phone number is not much better. This can only work if the person remembers the phone number of which to send the text message.

 

And asking people to physically approach a police officer or TSA employee can seem even more daunting. As a result, a large number of people will resist taking action and reporting something, even though they know they should. The public misses out on a chance to enhance public safety.

 

The public needs a quick and discreet way to submit information to authorities. A mobile SSSS app with the ability to submit tips anonymously is ideal. No fuss, no muss. Ideally the app will allow the person to submit their tip in 20 seconds or less, send location details of where the problem is, and allow a photo or video to be included.

 

Many people don’t want to talk on the phone and prefer instead to use messaging services, such as Apple’s iMessage or texting, to communicate. ELERTS mobile app allows the user to submit an information-rich incident report to authorities in under 20 seconds. The location of the incident, a photo or video and a description of the problem can be sent to a dispatcher who can assist.

 

For sub-911 issues, such as suspicious activity or minor crimes, people generally do not want to make a phone call and speak to a police officer on a recorded line. They much prefer to submit a data message, with the option to send their message anonymously. Easy breezy – a person who sees a security or safety issue can do their civic duty, reporting it with ELERTS app, and go on about their business whether traveling to their work or home.

 

See Something Say Something campaigns must include the simplicity and anonymity with which the public can report suspicious behavior. People do not want to be inconvenienced, but they generally do want to do the right thing. ELERTS mobile apps make it easy to do so. The more eyes and ears, the better. Together, we can make See Something Say Something campaigns really work to keep us all safer in an increasingly dangerous world.

Overcoming the Limits of Calling 911

The 911 emergency phone system is outdated. In 1874, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, allowing speech to be transmitted electronically over wires. His invention swept the world and homes and businesses everywhere installed telephones to communicate. If you wanted to speak to someone, you called their home or business and asked to speak to them. When the 911 emergency call system was invented in 1968, most homes had fixed-location, landline telephones. Using caller ID and a database of home addresses, it was easy and automatic for the 911 dispatcher to get the physical address of the caller. Times have changed. People are permanently disconnecting their home landline phones at an astonishing rate. The old telephony model of calling a place has been replaced by calling a specific person, wherever they are at the moment, on their mobile phone.

 

POTS goes up in smoke

 

Mobile phones are everywhere and landlines are dying. Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) is not only being disconnected by consumers – even phone companies like AT&T want to cut the cord. Less than 10 percent of the households in AT&T’s territory in Illinois have old-fashioned landlines. AT&T has petitioned the FCC to allow it to disconnect the 1.2 million landline phone customers it provides service for in the state, to help it move toward modern wireless telephony and Internet services. Phone companies wanting to exit the landline business is a growing national trend. AT&T has gotten similar legislation passed in 19 other states as well.

 

The FCC estimates that over 70 percent of calls to 911 are from cell phones and that number is rising quickly. Mobile phones don’t have a fixed location, they move about. This simple fact causes a major problem for the 911 system is that the CALLER ID can no longer automatically provide the location of the caller to the 911 operator. Knowing the location of a cell tower is not the same as knowing the location of a person in trouble.

 

To respond to an emergency, the police, fire or medics must know the physical address to go to. No address, no response. So it has become necessary for the 911 dispatcher to engage in questioning the caller to identify their location. This is by no means as easy as the old days, when the landline phone did not move and its location was perfectly known. While a dispatcher will ask location questions, often the person calling from a mobile phone may not even know where they are at the moment. They may be driving down a dark highway and see an accident. Or see a house on fire and not know even what town they are in.

 

The Solution: 911 must embrace smartphone technology

 

A multi-billion dollar, long time buildout is planned to modernize the 911 system. However, we should not need to wait! ELERTS mobile apps already can provide the location of the caller when a person presses ‘Call 911’ button in the app. Smartphones have excellent GPS location information which can be transmitted by mobile apps. Knowing the location of an emergency is critical to respond and render police, fire or medical services to those in peril.

Providing an easy way for citizens to contact emergency operators is crucial for public safety. We must adapt our emergency services to better interact with the mobile-phone-using public. The more eyes and ears reporting safety and security concerns, the better. So, while we have to wait for that multi-billion dollar 911 infrastructure upgrade to come to fruition, we do have alternatives that work today. The next time you hear of a See Something Say Something app in your area, download it and help by being a part of creating a safer society.

Sniffing For Trouble – K9 Dogs In High Demand for Airport Security. Humans Can Help.

We’ve all seen them – those four footed heroes sniffing around airports, train stations and public events, a reminder that threats could arrive anytime. While we may want to reach out and pet the dogs, we know better – their vests and humans on the other end of the leash are a clear sign that these pups are on duty and not to be bothered. Airport K9s are usually specialists, only there to sniff out explosives.  Their job is serious and airports prefer that only police officers handle these Service Trained Canines (K9), to ensure that proper action can be taken immediately if a dog signals a potential issue.

This week ELERTS attended the Airports Council International – North America Public Safety and Security Fall Conference in Arlington, VA. K9 units were one topic of discussion around the future of airport security. These dogs play an integral role in protecting airports in both public and sterile areas.  The TSA wants more dogs in airports. The challenge is that they are in such high demand that there are not enough trained and certified dogs to supplement the current needs. The cost is also high, with the GAO estimating each K9 dog costs $164,000 per year, on average. It was mentioned at the conference that significant federal funding is expected to be devoted for K9 training and certification programs.

The benefits of using K9s in Law Enforcement are apparent and will continue to play a role in protecting airports. That being said, there is also another option for helping to identify suspicious packages, behaviors and people. There’s plenty of availability and the cost is quite low – free, in fact. 

People with smartphones.

Like a dog with a strong nose, people, too, are great sensors for trouble. With the commonality of attacks taking place around the world – on transit systems, airports, sidewalks and concerts.  Airport employees and the public are needed more than ever to keep their eyes and ears open.  And, when human intuition is combined with a smartphone app that lets them quickly and discreetly report what they see and hear to the police, the airport crowd becomes a powerful force in public safety. 

While security agencies and police continuously seek easier-to-use, more effective tools to protect people and infrastructure, they must not miss the power of crowdsourcing as an important, cost-effective resource. Dogs are great – but people are, too. We know that people will help people if they have the right tools. That’s why at ELERTS, we created a public safety communications platform centered on the power and popularity of smartphones. ELERTS’ “See Something Say Something” apps are already deployed at 16 leading transit agencies, many that connect people to airports. 

The future of airport safety and all public safety will continue to involve some tried and traditional methods, like K9s, but must also embrace the future – the power of crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing Crime: Report Suspicious Behaviors

This weekend I went to see the movie Stronger, about Jeff Bauman, the young man in “that photo” who lost both of his legs in the Boston Marathon. One of the most gripping scenes in the movie was when Bauman saw the bomber. It was done subtly, as though to demonstrate how easy it would have been to miss. Yet, Bauman remembered what he saw. He knew at the time that something was off. But he brushed off the moment and turned back to the race. What if he had been able to easily report the suspicious man and his unusual behavior in a moment’s notice?

Today we woke up to yet another violent attack, the deadliest shooting in US history, in Las Vegas. We send our condolences to the victims and their families, and hope for full recovery for the many injured.

We’re also angry – as many are. How do we combat these incidents? How can we help? Our mission at ELERTS is focused on just this – allowing people to easily report suspicious behavior and help to derail such planned attacks before they happen.

Could a crowdsourced mobile alert app have prevented the shooter from succeeding in his evil mission? We can’t be sure. But we do know that when people report suspicious individuals and behavior, police are in a better position to stop violent acts.

While investigators in Vegas are now talking to eye witnesses to try and piece together what happened, we are reminded how valuable the public’s eyes and ears are when they act as a source of early warning for police.  Sometimes the early warning is enough to stop the bad guys from committing their assault on innocent people.  Apps that enable the public to quickly and anonymously report what they are seeing can make a difference. Many people are nervous to say anything directly – they don’t want to get involved. But when you give them a powerful tool to connect with police in the moment, without having to worry about getting pulled into the fray, they will share what they observed. We all want the same thing – a more peaceful, more safe world. Speaking up – even anonymously – is crucial to making this happen.

That is why we will continue our mission here at ELERTS: to empower the public to communicate with police and report what they see. The public can help – you can help. When you see something, say something.

Let’s continue to fight, together.