Whether on or off duty, LEOs can now receive immediate “active shooter” notifications on their iPhone or Android smartphones.
It’s been one year since the second deadliest mass murder at a U.S. elementary school. On December 14, 2012, 20 children and six adults were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Since then, decades-long conversations and debates around gun control, the effects of video games, mental health funding and treatment, and onsite school security protocols have been renewed, with intense and desperate focus on protecting our nation’s children.
At Sandy Hook, the school’s security system had recently been upgraded prior to the shooting – the school doors locked each morning at 9:30 a.m. and visitors had to be visually identified before being allowed to enter the school. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep the gunman from forcing his way into the school.
Short of turning each school building in the country into a prison-like setting with metal detectors, bullet proof glass (or no glass doors and windows at all), and armed security guards stationed throughout, is there anything that can be done to prevent this type of tragedy from ever happening again?
“We may never be able to prevent these extreme acts of violence, but we can reduce the amount of time in which there is nothing standing between a gunman and his victims, and ultimately, we can save more lives,” said retired Illinois State Police Colonel Michael Snyders, president of the Social Protection Network Foundation.
A new smartphone app—HERO911—has been created exclusively for federal, state and local law enforcement officers (LEOs) and has the potential to dramatically reduce response time and increase the available pool of police officers who can respond to a school shooting.
“Our country’s 911 system is very sophisticated and effective,” said Snyders. “But there are multiple steps involved between making a call to 911 and help arriving on the scene.” A call made to 911 is routed to a centralized 911 call center that may or may not be experiencing a high volume of calls. Once answered, the caller must explain the situation and it must be interpreted by the 911 operator. The operator directs the call to the appropriate agency, who then must also interpret the situation before dispatching officers to the scene. “The average school shooting lasts 12 minutes,” noted Snyders.
The HERO911 Network™ adopted the phrase “When Seconds Saves Lives” in the creation of the HERO911 app, resulting in a means to make an immediate call to 911 of an active school shooting via the push of a button. A simultaneous, direct notification is sent to police officers within a 10 to 15 mile radius (dependent on demographics/geography), whether they are on and off duty. This completely eliminates the explanation and dispatch processes. In one second, the entire emergency response system knows there is an active school shooting and exactly where it is.
The smart phone technology displays a mapped location of the initial alert, the number of uniformed and non-uniformed officers who acknowledged the alert, along with a continuous timer that displays minutes and seconds since the emergency activation. The app works nationwide, so officers will be alerted of an active school shooter incident even while traveling.
The app is only available to sworn law enforcement officers and qualified retired law enforcement officers (as defined by Title 18 USC § 926C). While anyone can download the app, it will only be activated for those who can show law enforcement credentials – once downloaded, the smartphone’s camera feature will open and the user will be prompted to take and send a photo of his or her law enforcement identification. Any police officer who has downloaded the free app will receive the “active shooter” alert, increasing the number of potential responders by as much as 784 percent.
The HERO911 Network™ works in tandem with SchoolGuard™ – a teacher’s panic button app that can only be activated on school grounds by school staff. SchoolGuard™ was developed by Guard911, LLC and is currently being implemented in schools across the nation. There is a fee to set up the application throughout the school, as well as a monthly service fee.
“SchoolGuardTM puts into place innovative and strategic applications to the technology that we have all become familiar: the ‘app,’” said Susanne Buxbaum, a child’s rights advocate and former teacher from central California. “The educators and administrators I work with most often consider themselves to be optimists. We like to think of all schools as being safe environments, but unfortunately this is no longer always so.”
Buxbaum, who visits no less than 10 schools each week, explains that educators and administrators at every school in which she works, without fail, are looking for something to make them feel safer. She believes SchoolGuardTM is that solution.
With the help and input from police, Guard911 developed this school shooting panic button app that simultaneously calls 911, notifies every teacher’s smart phone within the school, activates the HERO911 Network™ of police officers, and alerts all surrounding schools that are on the SchoolGuardTM system. In order to limit the HERO911 Network™ response to school shootings only, the teacher’s panic button app also provides a separate “911 Only” button and a separate “Teacher Assist” button for intra school, non-shooting emergencies. See smart phone display image.
“I am so enthusiastic about this product that I invited representatives from Guard911 to meet with the district superintendents of the 12 public schools I serve in my five-county region in southeastern Illinois, said Monte Newlin,” Regional Superintendent of Schools in Illinois. “The response from those present was every bit as enthusiastic as mine.”
According to Snyders, a team of police officers and technology experts have spent months developing and fine tuning both applications that are now ready to go.
“Our challenge now will be to make sure that every officer and every school in the nation knows they are available,” said Snyders.
All law enforcement officers are encouraged to download the free HERO911 app from Apple iTunes or Google Play. Additionally, encourage your colleagues to join the HERO911 Network™ and invite the schools in your communities to consider implementing SchoolGuard™.
The private social network for your neighborhood. That’s how Nextdoor, a two year old startup company based in San Francisco, describes their product. What is it? What does it do? Who is it for? How much is it? Let’s back up a moment and I will answer all of those questions.
My Department’s community has really embraced our efforts with social media (Twitter and Facebook). We have a strong following on both platforms and the overall feedback from residents has been overwhelmingly positive. Any Law Enforcement agency that makes a strong effort with social media won’t have to wait long before discovering its benefits. You’ll also wonder why you waited so long to embrace it. And, yes, you will quickly learn its pitfalls and limitations as well. It can often be a trial and error process which can sometimes raise the blood pressure of management and line Officers. If you’ve been a ConnectedCOP you already know this and you also realize the benefits outweigh the risks. A lot of these topics have been covered quite extensively and I’m not going to rehash most of it in this post. I am going to speak of limitations with traditional social media and how it brings me to Nextdoor.
What are the limitations I am talking about? First, it’s audience. Who is your social media audience? Is it local? Is it national? Is it international? Probably all of the above. Our experience has been that our Facebook audience has a higher number of residents than does Twitter. But, both platforms bring in people from all over the world. That’s a great thing in many respects but it also presents challenges because it’s not just your residents you are reaching. And sometimes, you just want to speak to your residents, not the media, not the perps, not the 752 agencies that follow you, etc.
The second limitation is accommodating employee involvement. How do you facilitate employee engagement through social media without having to wade through pages of privacy settings or dealing with numerous accounts that the agency has no control over? Then there’s the challenge of directing all of this employee involvement through a common outlet (your agency). Getting employees on social media is not hard. Moving them all in the right direction, under one umbrella, can be a major challenge. The term “Herding Cats” comes to mind.
Third, do these social media platforms give residents a common outlet to reach your agency and each other? This is where our conversation started and it was related to neighborhood watch. Yes, “Neighborhood Watch”, does it sound weird? Seems like it’s old school. But, everything old school eventually becomes new school again. In my town we had a neighborhood that was very tight and really wanted to address some of the nuisance crime that can degrade the quality of life. These folks had a system going with a Yahoo Group that was working very well and many of the members were using the group primarily through email, a great tool. However, in my own mind, I could see a problem for us moving forward.
The problem is that crime watch traditionally needs a relationship with the police. Do we get on their Yahoo Group to stay current and communicate? What if the neighborhood nearby uses Google Groups for their watch, a Facebook group or a listserv? We want to be part of the conversation, part of the solution. How can we be effective with all of the fragmentation? I started looking for solutions. I jumped online and began looking for crime watch software. Go ahead and try searching for yourself, I won’t bore you further.
It wasn’t until my friend and coworker Troy noticed the Nextdoor logo on the National Night Out webpage that I thought I had something with potential. Troy knew we were looking for something and passed it along as a possible solution.
So, what is Nextdoor? As I said in the first paragraph, it is described as a private social network for your neighborhood. But, what does that mean? The social part is just like any other form of social media. Its all about social networking with other people, specifically, your neighbors. That is where the “privacy” comes in. In order to register to your neighborhood you have to verify your address. There’s a few ways Nextdoor does this.
• With your mobile phone
• With a phone call to your landline
• With your credit or debit
• With a postcard sent to the address you registered with
Obviously, nothing is foolproof but the effort put forth on the verification process sets this platform apart from other software, among other things. But, one thing we can’t avoid is the requirement that we register for, yet another, social media site. I’ve always been a believer in going where the audience already exists, not bringing the audience to us. Requiring folks to register for something else in order to listen to us always seems to end up with a limited audience and the need to connect mainstream social media platforms to expand that audience. Ultimately, that scenario is often a fail. Will Nextdoor persevere? I’m not sure. Whether Nextdoor can overcome the challenges that has left others in the dust remains to be seen (for us) but I’ll be following up at a later date with actual results. For now, let’s look at the product and how to get started.
Like a typical startup company don’t expect to see many phone numbers listed on the Nextdoor website. Most of your contact with Nextdoor will be via email and their contact forms on their website. It took me a week or two to get a demo of the product but once that was out of the way things went quickly and I was put into contact with two employees that have been excellent in their support.
At this point I should mention that Nextdoor can be used by residents without the involvement of the municipality. But, our interest from the start was to launch it as a police initiative. Nextdoor for cities is what it is called. Just be aware that residents may already be using Nextdoor. Not a big deal but it may affect your neighborhood boundaries.
If you’re going to get this project off to a strong start you really want to pull out a map and work with Nextdoor to get the neighborhoods divided up. There’s no GIS wizardry required here and we were able to send them a map that we marked up with a Sharpie. You may find that there are some existing neighborhoods defined by residents and Nextdoor will be hesitant to change them without the consent of the person that created it, so be prepared. Dividing up neighborhoods isn’t as easy as it seems. Some neighborhoods are painless to identify because the streets and geography already provide good boundaries. Other areas on your map may not be so clear cut. The end goal should be neighborhoods with 100-1000 households.
Once the map is completed, it’s time to recruit members to act as founders. Founders are the folks that will get their neighborhood off the ground by inviting people to join the neighborhood on Nextdoor. How you find your founders depends on the agency. In our case we used our strong following on traditional social media to recruit founders successfully. Founding members register and start inviting their neighbors, who in turn, can invite as well once their address is verified. Once a neighborhood is started, it remains in “pilot” mode until a certain amount of verified membership is reached, usually around 10. There is usually a time limit on the pilot stage and if a neighborhood is not launched in a certain amount of time it will revert to being an “unused” neighborhood.
During this process Nextdoor will setup your agency’s “City Page” so you can invite agency members to join and track the progress of your neighborhoods. However, your agency presence on Nextdoor will not be available to you or residents until an official launch. More on that in a moment. While you’re preparing for official launch you will need to spend some time getting residents interested and recruiting founding members. At the same time you can track the progress of the neighborhoods at the Nextdoor site by logging in and viewing the Google map that they embed for you. The map will show you all of your neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in green have launched, brown are pilot and red are unused. Metrics are also available and are updated every night. Data available includes how many members exist in each neighborhood, the number of invites sent out, how much content has been generated by each neighborhood and other helpful statistics. The agency can even export the data to a CSV file. This is what our map looks like, five days prior to the official launch of our city page.
The last step on the list is official launch. This is where you officially announce to your residents that Nextdoor is available to them. Official launch will usually happen once 30-50% neighborhoods are started. This can be done through traditional press releases, social media and flyers. As I write this we are a few days away from this step.
So far, I’ve described the process but what about the product? Assuming you’ve already grasped the “privacy” aspect of Nextdoor the rest of the product should be familiar as a well designed social media site. What I mean by “well designed” is the layout of the neighborhood websites and the look and feel of the software itself. The user interface is feature rich, attractive, responsive and lightweight. The iOS and Android apps are no different. The overall user experience is very positive without the bloated feel of sites like Facebook.
Each neighborhood website on Nextdoor is where residents can post announcements in different categories, add events, classifieds and even create their own public or private groups. Neighborhoods can post to their neighborhood as well as adjoining neighborhoods. The website also facilitates the upload of pictures and documents. To see how a neighborhood works Nextdoor provides a demo website you can try out. I should also add that email integration is also available. If a resident has email notifications setup they can reply to a post simply by replying to the notification email. City officials can also respond this way.
How does the City Page work? One of the most important points about the City Page I’d like to share is that City Officials can’t see the neighborhood websites. With all the privacy concerns lately we think this is a good thing. That being said, Officials can post messages to one or all neighborhoods and residents are free to engage those posts through comments which the agency can see and respond to.
Agencies are able to add employees as officials on the city page. Each “Official” has a profile that they can make public or private. Once an Official posts from the City Page they are now visible to residents on the City Page “Officials” tab. Officials are also available to receive private messages from both residents and other officials. These messages can be responded to via the website or the users email account used when they registered.
From a police perspective the Nextdoor platform opens up some interesting possibilities in the area of Community Policing with individual neighborhoods. The ability for one or more Officers to focus on individual neighborhoods should be an obvious plus for most agencies.
The City Page isn’t limited to just Law Enforcement agencies and our Town management is very interested in Nextdoor for the same reasons we are.
What about costs? How does Nextdoor make money? Nextdoor is a free service to both residents and your city/town. They have no plans in the future to charge for their service. Their revenue model at this point has not been determined but I think it’s safe to assume that local advertising is a logical long term plan for Nextdoor. For now, Nextdoor has enjoyed plenty of interest and funding from numerous investors and capital venture firms as well as partnerships with some of the largest cities in the United States.
The big question of the day here is, will residents see the value in private social media for their neighborhood? Again, expecting people to add another social media site to their life is a challenge. The only way this will happen effectively is if the product sets itself apart from the competition. We don’t have the answer yet but we are waiting to find out. Early indicators are good though as we are approaching 600 members prior to official launch.
That’s the Nextdoor product overview. I’m sure there will be a lot more interest from Law Enforcement as the product sees expanded adoption nationwide. I’ll be sure to follow up our experiences with Nextdoor in a future post.
ConnectedCOPS Social Media Campaign
This award will go to the law enforcement agency which has met its stated goals with a documented social media campaign. The campaign is designed to address a significant problem or educational issue within the agency’s jurisdiction. Nominations should include a description of how success was measured.
The finalists in the Social Media in Campaign Management category have proactively and strategically designed a campaign with social media having a significant part. They have carried out the plan and achieved the goals set forth.
There are three finalists in this category:
North Yorkshire Police, United Kingdom
The North Yorkshire Police (NYP) were nominated for their success with two separate social media campaigns. With its #TeamNYP campaign, the NYP grew its engagement with citizens significantly. The plan was strategically combined with traditional communication methods to draw more views to the force’s website and other content. A key piece of the project was the redesign of the home page of the force website featuring live social media content. With a separate campaign focused on mobile technology and a goal of reducing burglaries, the NYP created an iBook campaign for iPad users. The iBook is called “Securing your home” and features chapters on bogus callers, burglary prevention, property marking, vehicle security and rural crime. The project was such a success that more iBooks are forthcoming and several other UK forces are looking to the NYP for their leadership.
Waterloo Regional Police, Ontario, Canada
With a goal of engaging youth, building awareness and stimulating dialogue surrounding gang prevention, the Waterloo Regional Police (WRPS) created the “8 Days of SWAG” social media campaign. The campaign and its social media profiles were deliberately branded separate from the Waterloo Regional Police Service based on a perceived notion that if youth knew who would be hosting the campaign, they would be less likely to participate. Each day was assigned a theme, as a way to organize the broad topic of “gangs” and prizes were awarded every day. By the end of the 8 Days of SWAG campaign, the WRPS had engaged over 650 participants which in turn reached more than 83 thousand Twitter accounts. On Facebook, they reached over 5,400 people, of which 68% were between ages of 13 and 24. WRPS received numerous requests from students, asking them to visit their school, as well as requests to continue the campaign next year.
Collier County Sheriff, Florida, United States
In November 2012, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) launched an ambitious multi-faceted public safety campaign aimed at bringing about a law that would make it illegal to text-message while driving in Florida. “Stop Texting & Driving” was a community-based, grass roots movement to address the growing demand for Florida to join the 39 states that have declared it illegal for drivers to text behind the wheel. Through their website, PSA’s and social media, citizens were asked to sign a call to action in support of anti-texting legislation. The Sheriff also invited community members to share their texting and driving experiences on the CSCO social media platforms. More than 150 people posted messages, many of which were heartbreaking, about how their lives had been affected by someone who was text-messaging while driving. Most significantly, Gov Rick Scott signed legislations on May 28th that makes it illegal to text-message while driving in Florida.
Finalists in the other awards categories will be announced throughout this week on this blog. Check back to see the finalists for Top Cop tomorrow. Winners will be announced September 25th at The SMILE Conference™ in Omaha, Nebraska.
Finalists previously announced:
- Social Media Investigator
- Excellence at a Small Agency
- Social Media Event Management
- Social Media Civilian Award of Excellence
- Leadership Award
The ConnectedCOPS Awards were created by LAwS Communications with the intent of recognizing the good work being done by individual officers and law enforcement agencies with social media. The international law enforcement community will be considered for these awards. Any officer or agency anywhere in the world is eligible.
The Socionical Crowd Sourcing app, which has been developed in conjunction with the London School of Economics, enables visitors to the City to download real-time information about the Force and vital information as a result of a serious or catastrophic incident in the city. The app is now available to download from the app store.
Not only will the information available cover policing priorities, wards policing information and location of useful resources, but direct feeds from the Force Twitter and website will keep users up to date with important messages.
Sgt Rebecca Walker from Emergency Planning, who has been at the forefront of ensuring the app has come to fruition said, “As well as giving people information about the Force, the app can let us send out messages in the event of a major incident, which is extremely valuable.”
In addition, the most unique and interesting part of the app is that it can create real time crowd sourcing maps which will allow the Force to monitor the density and movement of crowds. This can help to inform our policing response during emergencies or events”.
Users will have the choice of opting in to be part of the crowd sourcing, and a trial at the Lord Mayors Show proved to be successful in terms of tracking crowd density.
Much work has been done in terms of the legal and privacy implications of the app, which means very clear communications around data protection and privacy, ensuring that users feel safe and comfortable in using the app whilst in the City.
The app comes as part of an EU funded project ensuring the communities within the City of London have access to important information at no cost to the Force.
For further information, contact Christine Townsend @ceetownsend