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  • Writer's pictureRina Singh

Digital Public Surveillance in a Disaster..

When I was partaking in Exercise City Survival, A “pilot” training course aimed at individuals who are interested in understanding the terrorist "intelligence" we were tasked with an exercise on Terrorist and Counter Surveillance activities and were then sent out to prominent locations within London to engage in specific solution based tasks, culminating in stopping a terrorist incident.

In this instance I was a suspect and had a group follow me and a fellow volunteer around the streets of London. The activities and counter surveillance took a whole day, and even at the end if may have been difficult to catch us as suspects especially if we had known we were being followed.

Just now I was reading an article on what we have learned in terms of disaster management in the 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. This bit below got me into flash back mode.

“When a tornado and flash flood recently hit Wise County, a small rural area northwest of Fort Worth, digital volunteers were able to gather street addresses, photographs from the ground, and up-to-the-minute information on county roads where damage had occurred. This information was given to disaster response teams before the first relief truck even rolled in. It saved hours of work for field responder's, making for a more effective response operation,” wrote McGovern. See full details here

Throughout the day, as we were being surveyed as the threats , and wondering the hot spots of London, we got chatting about how students would be the perfect people to help in counter surveying without being noticed.

In this digital day and age, young people who are constantly on their phone is common, it is normal to have teenagers sitting around in café’s on laptops and phones, and no one would suspect a thing. That compared to a middle aged woman/man hanging around on their own still seems somewhat ‘dodgy’. Especially if you notice someone following you around the whole day.

As we were grouped and conjured up a story on how to look legitimate in case anyone asked, I mean, why would two twenty something’s be wondering the streets of London‘s sites in the middle of the day? OK , so maybe that’s normal for London as there are so many people, but realistically, hanging around train stations and scoping out where security cameras were , as part of our role play would have been somewhat worrying to some people. (We nearly came close to an incident and our team being arrested if it wasn’t for the lovely undercover police who were part of the exercise protecting us)

As I digress, I want to highlight that particular example of digital volunteers, because now it is essential. Information is available in so many forms, and what better way than the public to help. I found out in a case of surveillance, the police would work with 30 plus people to be dotted around to avoid being caught. This is taxing, especially when the public can help.

As a Londoner, one has to appreciate the numerous tweets on public transport for example. There was a time I jumped on and off 6 trains, thanks to various tweets Londoner’s had put out regarding various train failures. I was desperate to get to Hove to surprise my fiancé. (It didn’t end up being a surprise when it took me half a day to get to him, but it was the thought that counts along with the help of all this information!)

Digital public surveillance in a disaster is absolutely essential, it saves time, and we should all be contributing to it and should be considered as part of all contingency planning. Time is of essence in a disaster. Fact! Tweet about it!

until next time..

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