By the time President-elect Donald Trump takes to the podium to become the 45th president of the United States Jan. 20, countless hours of logistics and security planning will have been done by advance teams. Scores of analysts, security experts and law enforcement will be watching to make sure nothing outside of the ordinary happens to disrupt the ceremony.
The pressure to pull off the perfect inauguration is why cutting-edge technology folds prominently into the toolbox of the likes of the U.S. Secret Service, as well as major law enforcement agencies. These tools don’t just pull in a few data streams; they combine whatever they can to provide a clearer picture of the nation’s capital on inauguration day and at other major event centers around the country.
As the developers of just such a system will tell you, situational awareness during large-scale events has gotten more complicated in recent years. According to Chris Jensen, with Hitachi Data Systems Federal, new communications tools, like social media, and vast networks of security cameras and sensors have given authorities more to watch than ever before.
Jensen heads the development of the Critical Infrastructure Investigation and Intelligence (CI3) platform as part of the company’s larger visualization suite.
He compares the presidential event to the likes of major sporting events like the Super Bowl, where activities are not limited to a single day, but rather are made up of a collection of smaller events that lead to a larger one.
“If you look at an inauguration, it’s a lot like that kind of event, where you have layer upon layer of police and military assets that all need to coordinate and communicate,” Jensen explained. “That coordination is done through centralized command and control centers.”
“The Super Bowl just isn’t a game, and the inauguration just isn’t the swearing in and a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s actually a week of events that they have to worry about," he continued.
On its face, the feat is daunting, but organized and compiled into one place, that’s another story. By Jensen’s count as a former police officer and head of an intelligence task force, the ability to loop in multiple streams of relevant data into one centralized location not only makes sense from a security standpoint, but also from the perspective of using the technological tools as a force multiplier.
Where a person used to need to watch a bank of screens for questionable activity, sensors and cameras can now play a major part.
“You now can use technology to free up resources, which gives you the ability to do more with the same amount of people,” Jensen said. “[Technology] not only frees up resources, but that allows the agencies that are going to focus in more on areas that need more attention.”
Analysts and these systems are also paying more attention to social feeds than ever before. People use the media platforms as a way to organize protests, Jensen said, and more nefarious actors could be using them to run counter-intelligence to relay information to cohorts.
“I think [social media and technology] has created a greater workload from the aspect of it’s a lot easier now for a group who wishes to have a violent protest or do something to break the law. It allows them a greater freedom to organize in a hidden location, but it also allows law enforcement a tool to have a view into what is going on.”
He said the risks for criminal activity and the efforts to stop it must be balanced against the rights of law-abiding citizens and peaceful protestors.
When all is said and done, lay all of this data over an interactive map and it isn’t difficult to understand the breadth of moving parts that go into the security of many larger events. From utility data and city traffic flows to license plate readers and gunshot detection systems, Jensen said the CI3 tool paints a clearer picture of the what is going on in the field.
While Jensen said he could not definitely say whether the Hitachi system would be used during Trump’s inauguration ceremony tomorrow, he did say it plays a daily part in D.C. Metro’s policing and was used during the two previous inaugurations.
As for other large events in recent memory, the Phoenix Police Department said the city’s hosting of the 2015 Super Bowl had an undeniable element of technology, including the monitoring of publicly available social feeds, according to Sgt. Jonathan Howard.
“Most major law enforcement agencies, including the Phoenix Police Department, constantly monitor social media and a wide variety of open sources to gauge interest and crowd expectations surrounding major events, planned and unplanned,” he said in an email. “Technology, such as cameras and recording locations, whether available through personal cell phone video, government installations, or privately owned and operated systems, continue to expand on a daily basis and provide an additional layer of security to deter criminal activity or assist law enforcement in solving crimes that occur.”
And while technology may offer new insights into the world around us, he added that the most valuable tools for his department continue to be an engaged and observant public.
“Despite huge improvements and the availability of technology, the human eyes and ears continue to be the most valuable law enforcement tool for crime prevention and general security issues. 'If you see something, say something' continues to be among the most valuable messages we can share with our community,” Howard said.