FPAT (Force Protection Alert Tool)

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FPAT (Force Protection Alert Tool)

Based on the University of Southern Mississippi campus, the NCS4 (National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security) sprang into existence in 2006.  It was established under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.  The NCS4 is generally regarded as the premiere government liaison to the sporting industry.  Their mission is to support the advancement of safety and security through training, professional development, academic programs and research.  They provide strategic guidance, assistance and advice on critical industry issues.

The NCS4 recently collaborated with Radiance Technologies located in nearby Huntsville, Alabama.  Their chief goal was to determine the effectiveness of a new software technology.  The product is known as FPAT (Force Protection Alert Tool).

The overriding objective was to analyze real-time internet traffic in order to better assess threats to public safety and venue security in a timely fashion.

A direct quote from their recent report:

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have quickly risen to prominence in usage by a large majority of the public.  The nature of social media makes it easy to use these tools as a platform to coordinate and conspire malicious acts and disrupt events and threaten venues and large groups of people.  By monitoring real-world social media, FPAT could be used to enhance situational awareness and detect potential threats that are expressed in unstructured social media forums.

FPAT searches for key words in cellular transmissions: synonyms, root words and derivations of terms that could denote emergency situations and/or criminal activity.

Words like arson, assault, bombing, counterfeiting, kidnapping, riot, stampede, theft, trespassing, vandalism, etc.

Phrases like disorderly conduct, illness-related medical emergency, etc.

If FPAT finds suspicious terminology, it then relays that contextual information to a central command location.  In theory, this should enhance situational awareness and lessen the duration of emergency response time.

On November 23, 2013, NCS4 and Radiance Technologies launched the initial test of FPAT during a college football game at M.M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg, MS.  Some key information:

  • The system monitored wireless communications within a 1,000 foot proximity of the stadium perimeter.
  • Twitter was the only social media forum to be monitored.
  • FPAT was utilized during the time frame of 12:30 PM – 5:30 PM.
  • The final attendance was announced at 22,134 out of a capacity of roughly 37,000.  By NCAA Division I standards, this is an admittedly low attendance figure.

Results:

According to evaluators, the experiment worked well.  It met or exceeded expectations with regard to alerting and usability.  However, of great interest should be the fact that even though FPAT met the “alerting criteria,” it failed to provide notifications in a “reasonable time frame” due to a lack of “demonstrable data points.”  There were several incidents where the transmission of information was stalled or backlogged.

Now here’s my takeaway:

I’m not going to even touch on the constitutional aspects of this technology.  To be honest, I’m not sure whether this is even legal.  It’s also not my primary concern.

I’m concerned that someone, in the aftermath of a tragedy, might claim that this was the best technology and means AVAILABLE to mitigate an artificially generated stampede (a sudden rush of people likely the result of panic-inducing information delivered via cell phones or mobile devices).

Such a claim would be downright ludicrous.  The obvious reason being — there is no way to mitigate a human stampede.  The solution lies in prevention and awareness, not mitigation.

I’m also deeply worried that administrators and authorities will remain reliant on this new technology rather than being forthcoming and acknowledging the bigger picture.  At some point you just need to start telling stadium attendees…

If you receive an evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information via your cell phone, it’s almost certainly a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

Adding to this dilemma, there are additional ways to induce a sudden rush of fans.  None of the following transmissions employ suspicious or threatening key words. Any of these statements could result in large numbers of fans suddenly moving in an aggressive fashion.

  •  There’s an old man handing out $100 bills in the concourse outside Section 108!
  • I can’t believe it!  Bruce Springsteen is signing autographs next to the information kiosk!
  • Quaker Steak and Lube is giving away free buckets of garlic hot wings!  They’re testing out a new flavor right now!  While supplies last!

A few admissions:

The last time I was in Mississippi was during the mid 1990’s.  I’ve never been to M.M. Roberts Stadium or visited the University of Southern Mississippi.  I know nothing of trials and tribulations of their campus police department.  And I’ll readily concede that FPAT technology is still in the admittedly formative stages of development.

But here’s what I do know.  The prospect of a stampede ranked very high in the category of “Incident Classification Importance.”  FPAT was used to sense key words like “stampede” and “crowd crush.”  During the course of the evaluation, no keyword searches were returned that dealt with stampedes.

But seriously, what if there had been a suspicious transmission?  Do the creators of FPAT or the USM tactical command really expect someone to announce (via Twitter no less) their intention to instigate a human stampede.  Even more worrisome is the delusional notion that law enforcement could actually prevent an artificially generated stampede.

The concept of utilizing mitigation requires an O.O.D.A. loop.  You observe what’s happening, orient yourself, decide what to do and then take action.  An artificially generated stampede is by definition, an event that transpires in real-time.  You simply would not be afforded the opportunity to make thorough evaluations and assessments.

And even if you could take instantaneous action, what would you do?  Make an announcement over the public address within that precise millisecond?

“Stop stampeding immediately!  Anyone engaged in the act of running for their life could be deemed negligent and tried in a court of law.  Stampeders can face stiff penalties… including potential felony charges, fines in an amount no greater than $10,000 and a maximum term of imprisonment for a duration of no less than 5 years.”

Hailing from West Virginia, I can think of one practical application for FPAT.  And that’s a quicker emergency response to a couch burning.  But an artificially generated stampede?  You cannot be serious.