Friday, October 4, 2013

“Active shooter”: Communicating more than a breaking news statement

“Active shooter.” That’s what an email sent to people on Capitol Hill said, or so the mass media first announced about reported gunfire yesterday. “Active shooting” might have been a better term we know now. “Active shooter” has quickly entered the vernacular as a crazed gunman in a place of business, a school, or a shopping mall. This time, though, shots came from police who, it seems now, may have been appropriately responding to a 2-ton bullet on gasoline-powered wheels—an automobile.

Again as a news consumer, I have read that the second message, “All clear,” flashed on video screens in federal government buildings about an hour later.

Active shooter. All clear. In this instance, those two phrases may have been sufficient communication, because the tragedy didn’t escalate to involve bystanders. But for corporate communicators who practice crisis exercises, perhaps this is a timely opportunity to ask, What if?

What if an active shooter in the workplace threatens the lives of employees? And what if that shooter is going office to office or floor to floor, outside the scope of surveillance cameras? If Google Glass were prevalent in that workplace, in even its current beta format, wearers could capture and feed a visual report to help responding officers assess the situation and secure employees from harm.

In addition, crisis teams could deliver instructions through Glass to people who most need to know what to do next. Notifications, updates, information cards—those are the kinds of terms we use to define succinct messages delivered by Glass. What general, quick messages can we script in advance so they are ready to adapt to a specific situation if needed? What if communication to a Glass wearer could unobtrusively provide instructions in how to respond to an active shooter?

What if we help shape the development of wearable computing to take advantage of built-in sensors to better handle crisis incidents. In the case of a shopping mall shooting, for example, sensors in wearable computers could pinpoint where innocent shoppers are hiding, and whether they are imminently threatened. Officials could give specific directions for taking cover. If the situation allowed escape, a map could appear in peoples' line of sight with arrows pointing the route to safety.

Much Google Glass hype seems to revolve around extreme sports videos and unposed baby smiles. Glass for crisis situations may be gloomy by comparison, but it’s worth thinking about to be well prepared.

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