Tweets, other social media could help San Diego State police protect people in an emergency

Department has used Geofeedia monitoring system

SAN DIEGO - What do wildfires, the Poinsettia Bowl and Comic-Con have in common? They are all ideal situations for pinpointing what people are posting on social media. 

San Diego State University police are among the first in San Diego to use social media as a tool to evaluate the details of an emergency or a major crowd control event.

"If there was something to happen, we would probably see a spike in tweets and pictures coming from that location," said San Diego State University police Capt. Lamine Secka. 

He says the department has used the social media monitoring service, Geofeedia, for about six months. Police can not only follow such media as Twitter, Instagram and Flickr but also monitor posts by geographic location, including the heart of campus.

So when someone outside Viejas Arena describes an incident using social media, it is an example of how this technology will allow citizens who are in the thick of things to become an extra set of eyes and ears for the police department.

A perfect example of how social media could help is the Cal State Fullerton lockdown in December when armed robbery suspects ended up on campus and students began posting photos and information.

"You're able to see what the students see or the professors see or what they're experiencing," said Secka.

However, there can be drawbacks. A huge event such as the Dalai Lama's visit last April can tax cell towers, slowing down communication. Plus, there can be erroneous information.

"Obviously, before we were to engage in anything, we would try to vet that information as best we can," said Secka.

By monitoring hotspots from sporting events to big campus parties, police hope to prevent problems or respond faster.

"We don't know where the bounds are at this point," said Secka. "I mean, it's potentially limitless."

Secka also warns the department is not monitoring social media 24/7 so people who need help should still call police.  He said other local departments that do not already monitor social media this way may follow suit.

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