A year after Boston Marathon, an emergency crowdsourcing platform launches with LA police

Katie Peters

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Last year after the horror of the Boston marathon bombing, witnesses at the event sent the Boston Police photos and videos from the scene, which overwhelmed their email servers and made analysis of the information difficult. Just over a year later, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has partnered with CitizenGlobal and Amazon Web Services to provide a platform to accept and process virtually unlimited eyewitness photos and videos that can easily be analyzed by law enforcement officials.

"Culture has really evolved into a culture of smartphones and technology," Nick Namikas, co-CEO of CitizenGlobal. "It’s becoming more apparent that people are taking photos and videos at a rapid rate, and sometimes it takes a horrible emergency like the Boston bombing for the need to show. The saying used to go 'see something, say something.' Nowadays we have the ability for it to be 'see something, send something,' which is what photo and video eyewitness sharing is all about."

The Powerful Partnership

LEEDIR, which stands for “Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository” is the name of the platform set up for large-scale emergency events. The LA Sheriff’s Department saw the need for a way to collect eyewitness information from the scene of a disaster, and reached out to Amazon Web Services and CitizenGlobal to provide the necessary infrastructure and crowdsourcing technology services.

The platform is currently a partnership between the three companies; the Sheriff’s Department is taking the lead on educating law enforcement agencies across the nation on how to utilize and analyze the information uploaded by citizens, CitizenGlobal is sponsoring the platform of gathering and analyzing eyewitness information, and Amazon Web Services is providing the highly-scalable, cloud infrastructure that supports the platform and stores the data.

How it Works

The ironic part about developing the LEEDIR platform is the development of something everyone hopes never has to be used. LEEDIR is meant only for large-scale emergency events, something no one wants to see again in the United States. However, in the case of an emergency, it is ready to be deployed quickly and easily, Namikas said.

There are two criteria for LEEDIR to be activated for an event: 1) the situation must involve multiple jurisdictions or agencies, and 2) the event must have 5,000 people in attendance or be over five square miles.

This covers major criminal or terrorist events or natural disasters. When a law enforcement agency requests activation of the LEEDIR platform the apps and website are immediately updated with the request for eyewitnesses of the specific event. The law enforcement or relief agency then notifies local media outlets to direct citizens to the LEEDIR website, where they can submit their photos and videos and download the LEEDIR mobile apps. Information can be uploaded anonymously, and as the photos and videos come in, analysts can collaboratively evaluate the information to distribute to the participating agencies. However, none of the information is immediately considered evidence, but the process is instead seen as collecting information to lead to evidence.

Testing

Last Thursday, the LA Sheriff’s Department set up a test event for law enforcement agencies, letting them practice the process and in order to collect data to create an example workflow for the situation. Agencies were encouraged to submit photos and videos over a three-hour period, while analysts in the LA department used the simulation to create a workflow of the review and analysis process. (The process will be posted on the website in the next few weeks for agencies to refer to if they ever need to use the platform. Until then, you can watch a video describing the process here.)

"Focus in on the customers who most actively use your product," Namikas said. "Listen to their feedback, listen to what works for them and evolve your technology around that basis. Developing technology for the sake of people is better than technology for the sake of technology. Find customers who are using your technology effectively to capitalize on that and to find success in the product."

The Small Stuff

Although LEEDIR is only activated for large-scale emergency situations, CitizenGlobal offers the technology for small-scale emergency events as well. CitizenGlobal wants to put public safety in the hands of the citizens through providing similar software to individual law enforcement agencies, municipalities, schools, universities, and more. The company hopes that day-to-day eyewitness collecting will also spread, and that there will be a large adoption of CitizenGlobal so that every community has access to a reporting tool for emergencies such as hit and runs, thefts and more.

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