Last Saturday night, an explosion tore through New York's Chelsea neighborhood, injuring 29 people.
In the aftermath, two fairly new social media and smartphone notification systems were activated.
Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for the first time in New York and authorities used the Wireless Emergency Alert system to disseminate information to help track down the suspect.
Facebook's Safety Check is a feature that is activated during emergencies that lets users around the affected areas use the social media site to notify friends and family that they are safe. Users can also mark other friends in the vicinity as safe.
Safety Check was introduced in 2014 and was previously activated with major emergencies such as the Paris and Brussel attacks and the bombing in Turkey. The feature was turned on for the first time in the U.S. after the shootings at the Orlando nightclub, Pulse. Other events that prompted Facebook to activate Safety Check include the sniper attack on Dallas police and the earthquake in Italy.
Another emergency response that was activated in the bombing aftermath was the use of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to notify the public about the suspect.
The WEA is an SMS-like notification that is pushed to smartphones usually used for severe weather warnings and Amber alerts for missing children.
Authorities issue these WEA notifications via cellphone towers and geolocation fencing to reach cellphone subscribers in a particular affected area. These notifications are reported to be using special channels apart from the phone call or data lines, which can get congested during times of emergencies.
Early this morning, instead of the typical weather or Amber alert, the authorities triggered it to help find the bombing suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami. Accompanying the alert was a picture of the suspect and a 911 advisory.
It is unknown if the WEA alerts helped the authorities but Rahami was taken into custody shortly after.
Despite the arrest, the affected NY areas are still on heightened alert and residents are being advised to plan for transportation delays. Amidst the manhunt and ongoing investigations, New York City is also shoring up security for the upcoming United Nation's General Assembly this week.
As Facebook is reportedly planning to let users activate Safety Check on their own and WEA alerts are increasingly used in manhunts, will this be the start of crowdsourced emergency responses and public intelligence gathering?
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