Eric Sun
People are pretty polarized about the 140-character public social network.
Despite the narrow concept of Twitter, the social media platform has led to many creative applications. Recently, a tweet led to the arrest of a teen accused of conspiring with a dozen other youths to assault a bus driver for fun. Police tracked down the teen from an anonymous tip, and discovered a boasting tweet about his hand hurting, presumably from the attack. On the flip side, criminals have creatively used Twitter to track down people sharing vacation plans and photos. An empty home means an easy getaway for burglars.
With AMBER Alerts now available on Twitter, it’s clear that Twitter isn’t just for tweens anymore. But what about for public safety? I always joke that I’ll tweet for help as I get mugged or stabbed. Seriously kids, a call or text to 911 is always the best reaction to a potentially serious injury. However, Twitter provides detectives and public safety officials supplementary information around incidents and an inside look into their communities.
In the public sector, most police and fire departments now have Twitter accounts that post real-time updates to incidents, events, and other important information. These are very popular, with thousands of followers checking in for updates about crime data, major arrests, road closures, and other details. The Cambridge MA twitter account has, at print, 16.4k followers. The Boston PD account has 265k.
In return, police departments around the country are starting to embrace smart technology. “Smart” policing and crime centers now monitor “Twitterfalls” to get real-time public data on major events. Twitterfalls are keyword searches that display relevant tweets in a stream. If a robbery occurs at a local store, police can gather eye-witness data, and even pictures, by searching for relevant words. Twitterfalls can also be used for daily observations by using words like “gun” to track potentially illegal activity.


In PublicEye, emergency services such as police, fire, or EMS teams can access real-time data displayed on an interactive map. To see citizen witnesses’ responses to major incidents, responders can view all geotagged tweets in any specified location.
For example, this is what we were able to see during the LAX shooting. Looking at the map of the surrounding LAX area, we can see Twitter icons representing recent tweets by witnesses. By reading the tweets, one can see the outsider’s perspective on the shooting that happened that day.


If we zoom in, we can center our focus on tweets occurring from inside LAX, and specifically the Bradley International Terminal. First responders can use this data in real-time to pinpoint danger areas, track suspect and witness locations, and collect in-the-moment witness data. If the tweets contain photos or videos, the emergency teams can analyze them, and share vital images with their teams via Group MMS.


Twitter may still be a haven for tweens, but it is also a crucial tool for completing the picture of an incident for first responders. This is especially if they’re using PublicEye, and can access all of this data as it happens in real-time.

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