Waking in the hospital after surgery, having lost both his legs in one of the bomb blasts last week in Boston, Jeff Bauman asked for pen and paper and with great effort wrote a note to communicate that a short time before the two explosions a man with a hooded sweatshirt had looked directly at him while dropping a bag.
That note led the FBI to review security video footage from stores near the two points of detonation. Analysts edited together one and a half minutes of video from store cameras at different places along the street near the site. And within twelve hours the suspect shown wearing a white hat in the video was identified on campus last Friday at MIT. By the end of that night one of two men in the security video was dead and the other was being pursued through a few fully cordoned blocks of the Watertown neighborhood in Boston.
It took a bit less than four days; from Jeff Bauman’s hospital room note to the release of still and video images of two suspects.
Had the bombing occurred in Manhattan it’s very likely police there would have had video images to circulate within hours thanks to NYPD's Domain Awareness System (DAS). One of the explicit purposes of that system is counter-terrorism; and to that end any alert within the system immediately makes available the last three minutes of surveillance video from any of the 3000 street-level cameras within 500 feet of the alert. Not only would images of the suspects have been seen within minutes of the explosions but, based on the cameras that captured the images, police would also have known the direction in which the suspects traveled after leaving the site; it’s even possible that some number of cameras would have provided images of the suspects along their entire escape route.
Though DAS would not necessarily have stopped the bombings in Boston from occurring, the system would excel in helping law enforcement contain and investigate such an incident. NYPD and Microsoft partnered to develop DAS as a pilot program in NYC and now offer the system as a product to other US police departments.
There is another aspect of the Domain Awareness System that I want to discuss next time. Here I just want to reiterate what everyone knows about IT systems: critical systems (especially those with life and death implications, for example, in hospitals or on airplanes) require available and reliable monitoring that regularly confirms those systems are working properly and quickly escalate alerts when they are not.