During the worst shooting in modern US history, my unit was called shortly after the first shots were fired. We’ve been called numerous times to work with local authorities to help gather online evidence and information during an emergent event. Each tragedy is different and we must learn from these events to better prepare for a similar attack.
Here are a few lessons learned from the Las Vegas massacre as it relates to utilizing online data within an information collection process.
Geo-location success depends on popularity.
During the Las Vegas massacre, there was a plethora of geolocated data but it was not necessarily relevant. It’s important to remember that when looking at Geolocation data you’re looking at not only the amount of data but also the usefulness of that data. Vegas is a popular location jammed packed with individuals sharing their experiences. It was easy to gather a lot of data but it was not necessarily useful. It’s easy to get frustrated at the lack of geodata but it’s important to remember that the ‘more popular the location, the more data you have to choose from.’ When dealing with an emergent trend, you don’t want to waste time by drawing a geofence over an area and not getting useful data, instead, you need to shift priorities to ensure greater accuracy.
Video and pictures ruled the night.
The absolute best evidence and situational awareness data came from 30-60 second video and pictures. We were able to zero in on the actual location of the incident, where people were hiding and where the injured were located. By looking for background identifiers we were able to determine and build out the timeline of events that happened. Videos and pictures provided us with the opportunity to get a better view of what the victims were seeing in real-time.
Be careful with keywords and hashtags.
If you entered the keywords “Active Shooter” AND “Vegas” you were hit with a deluge of useless information. If you used #mandalaybay or #route91 you were taken to a stream of pertinent information. It took us 15-minutes to settle on #route91. The hashtag was there, but we simply overlooked it several times, and as a result, we lost time in pulling in key information within our investigation. The lesson here is, no one could have predicted #route91 would be such a great place for info but paying attention to the content within posts to help identify keywords and relevant information.
An emergent event is usually one of mass chaos with an overwhelming amount of information to sift through. It’s important during this time not to overlook critical information.
For the next emergent event, determine the correct keywords and create silos of information to strategically assess the situation and deploy resources accordingly. It allows you to get the right information, create an operational plan, deploy quickly, and be as flexible as possible.
The primary lesson learned: let the data tell the story. It will serve you well in the midst of chaos.
Written by Chris Adamczyk
Chris Adamczyk is a 16-year law enforcement veteran and consultant. Widely known for his work in the “real-time” social media space he is often asked to design programs for the sports industry, education, and private security. A subject matter expert in the field of counter-terrorism, threat assessments, and Open Internet Source Intelligence, he has been instrumental in the investigation of terrorism, sex-trafficking, gang violence, and geopolitical strife. He has provided real-time social media support internationally, including the Super Bowl XLIX, The 2015 NFL Pro-Bowl, and is a permanent instructor for the Arizona State Terrorism Liaison Officer Program and a contract instructor for Cook County Emergency Management.