Baltimore School Warning Was Just a Tweet Away

By Haystax, May 7, 2015 | SHARE

Several hours before the Baltimore riots broke out on the afternoon of April 27, a handful of social media posts could have changed the course of how schools in the area responded. One tweet read: “BaltimorePolice say ‘credible threat’ shows gangs including Crips & Bloods partnered-up to ‘take-out’ law enforcement officers.” Another social media post advertising a violent “purge” starting at 3 p.m. that day at an area mall, which was widely recirculated among students starting late morning, provided a similar kind of early warning indicator of the troubles to come. Had school officials in the area seen this information when it first broke on Twitter, they could have used it to shut down Baltimore City and County Public Schools more quickly, helping to convey students safely away from the confrontations and arrive home sooner. But school officials in Baltimore, like most schools around the country, did not have the resources or capabilities to sift through all the noise of social media to identify activity that posed the biggest threat. Without this information, Baltimore-area schools dismissed students just as police were assembling in the streets around 3 p.m., hindering bus, car and pedestrian routes home. This was a complex and fast-moving situation with many decision-makers and stakeholders spread across multiple jurisdictions. Even for those monitoring social media on a regular basis, it would have been very difficult to know precisely which feeds, threads, posts or tweets to pay attention to – to discern which were the most important and which could pose the greatest danger to students, staff and school facilities. This is exactly what Haystax Technology’s School Safety Center is designed to do. Its Threat Streams app dynamically analyzes and prioritizes the most important pieces of information so school safety stakeholders can understand context, see patterns and take action quickly. In the case of the Baltimore riots, the technology was able to identify particular tweets and immediately raise them to the level of a significant threat, filtering out less pertinent tweets that had little bearing on student or public safety (see screen images below). Since no local organizations were using the Haystax School Safety Center at the time, they also operated without the benefit of any additional context-specific information – such as geo-located school facilities, emergency plans and mobile field alerts from officers – that could have further aided in analyzing and responding to a rapidly escalating situation. Even without that additional context, however, it was instructive to see what the Threat Streams app alone turned up on a very dangerous Monday afternoon in Baltimore.

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Screenshot #1: The Haystax School Safety Center features a Threat Streams app for real-time monitoring of threat information, which analyzes and prioritizes publicly available digital feeds. The left column shows the “purge” and “gangs teaming” posts (second and third from the top) that provided an early indication of the disruptions to come later that day. Baltimore Threat Stream Screenshot #2: Haystax identified and prioritized one related series of tweets and retweets as indicating potential threat activity just after noon Baltimore time on April 27. Such posts can be seen on a map in addition to the Threat Streams viewing page. Baltimore School Tweet