Boston Marathon tragedy sparks nationwide surveillance initiatives

Published: April 18, 2013

Justice/Public Safety & Homeland Security

Following the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, cities nationwide are calling for more vigilant emergency response efforts and increased security resources. Of those resources, surveillance technology is proving to be a key ingredient in identifying suspects, and is likely to be a vital component of thwarting future occurrences.
Law enforcement and public safety officials in Boston have relentlessly been making efforts to carefully scrutinize the city’s surveillance network as well as any footage captured via the public. In response, government agencies across the country are calling on legislators to ask for additional and widespread use of surveillance technologies within their own jurisdictions.
Surveillance technologies, including CCTV, were effective in capturing evidence of criminal and terrorist activity in London. While Boston’s surveillance network isn’t nearly as extensive as London’s, the technology will likely be a key component in criminal intelligence. Many jurisdictions have recently expressed interest in improving current surveillance technologies, including the city of Virginia Beach and the state of Washington’s Sound Transit.
Many investigators have also pointed to the use of facial recognition software as an imperative additive to traditional video surveillance. Facial recognition software has become a hot-button technology in crime prevention as it enables investigators to map distinct features from a photographic image to identify suspects, victims, and missing persons, which can provide leads for additional investigative resources.
Recent legislation regarding the use of drone technology in U.S. airspace has also stirred up much attention among public safety agencies. The aftermath of events like those in Boston could push governments to request drone presence at major entertainment or sporting events to increase surveillance.
Analyst’s Take
When catastrophic events occur, there is an exigent need for increased police presence to ensure maximum safety, but on a day-to-day basis, increased police presence can be taxing on state budgets. Therefore, government agencies constantly rely on technological improvements to advance overall first response efforts and ensure public protection with minimal resources. Major cities may also set aside funds for implementing additional surveillance initiatives to ensure that current systems are up to date with the latest improvements, including facial recognition software.
After major emergencies, it is also common for public safety agencies to see an influx of 9-1-1 calls from citizens reporting suspicious activity since senses are heightened and people are naturally on a higher level of alert. Therefore, public safety communications and dispatch agencies may also take the opportunity to improve overall 9-1-1 capabilities to next generation and incorporate statewide emergency alert signals. With the ability to now send pictures, text messages and even video as 911 calls, this technology could become even more important for first response. It will be interesting to see if grant funding will now become more readily available to help departments fulfill their transition to NG911, as many agencies are plagued with outdated systems and lack the funding needed for upgrades.
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