Israeli security professionals have developed an app that helps manage crisis situations
In the aftermath of the attacks that rocked the city of Paris on Friday night, claiming the lives of nearly 130 people and grievously wounding hundreds more, many people are already asking how the chaotic situation could have been handled differently.
Terror attacks that target multiple locations in cities like Paris, London, New York, and elsewhere pose a serious challenge to security forces. Coordinating the massive influx of information coming in from the field, connecting with personnel like police and medical services in the field, and alerting the public of danger can be a weighty undertaking.
The leaders of Octopus, co-founded in 2013 by CEO Tal Bar Or, CTO Baruch Tagori, and Jack Eshel, have extensive experience operating in Israel’s security apparatus as well as the private sector.
The company is already working with a number of high value corporate clients as well as government offices to help manage their security needs. Hotels and other large volume facilities including those with valuable storage locations also fall into their target market.
Octopus plans on taking part in the Milipol convention this week in Paris.
Taking a different approach to security management
Bar Or and Tagori explain to Geektime that one of the biggest gaps they have identified in current security structures is the division between Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM). As most security departments have different managers for these aspects of security, they often fail to coordinate between them and are ripe for exploitation.
A key component of improving security is cutting response times and keeping the relevant people in the loop. Tagori says that their information management software works to identify threats in the system and automatically start the response procedures as a part of their security philosophy.
Saving lives through better coordination
The power behind Octopus’ solution is its ability to reach out to an extensive quantity of sources and coordinate simultaneously with assets in the field, all through a smartphone. Most importantly, it provides an eagle-eye view to command and control operators over a situation in order to make the best possible decisions.
While surveillance cameras in most locations are not considered to be smart devices, they are the ‘brains’ of the system that is handling the input from those cameras: They can make the difference when it comes to monitoring suspects or gathering operational intelligence.
As a part of their command and control system, the Octopus app for mobile and web provides the user with access to a network of cameras closest to the event, essentially giving the commander insights into the situation that can vastly improve their decision making.
In practice, this type of feature can be used to tap into cameras facing the streets like those that are seen in heavily monitored places like London, or for looking inside a building’s internal CCTV network such as at a bank.
The programing behind these systems sift through mountains of images, looking not necessarily for faces but rather composites and features. As Bar Or explains, facial recognition is rarely enough to go on since there are way too many factors that can affect its effectiveness.
The platform also allows for collecting intel from open sources like Facebook, which can provide security professionals with additional streams of information. As was seen in the Paris attack, regular citizens were posting to their social media feeds important details, including how many attackers they were seeing, where there were attacks, and other useful data.
Knowing many terrorists are at a location and other details gleaned from visual or social media can give security forces a tactical advantage in neutralizing the situation.
Taking control in a crisis
Bar Or comments that Octopus’ system could have helped not just first responders, but also regular citizens near the attacks. “There would be less chaos regarding information flow to the public – what is going on, where to be, or what to do and where to stay away. This would come direct to phones of people on the street and that are not near a TV or radio,” he tells us.
Bar Or then compares the attack in Paris to the one in 2008 that struck Mumbai. In both cases, the attackers hit multiple locations and created a chaotic situation that hindered the security forces’ response.
He cites how in trying to flee, tens of workers at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel were killed when they went down to the lobby where the terrorists were waiting. Had an alert like the one that can be sent through the Octopus app gone out to those nearby telling them where the danger was, Bar Or says that some of these deaths could have been prevented.
“I’m sure that attacks by groups like ISIS will continue to happen in major cities. How security forces are able to better prepare themselves to handle these large-scale situations will make a huge difference in the end result,” says Bar Or.
“In the first half hour of a security event, there will be chaos,” he explains, “Unfortunately you’re always going to have casualties. The idea is to limit them as much as possible with faster and smarter operating procedures.”
Bar Or notes that additional casualties can come after the first attack as people begin to congregate at the scene of the attack. This can be bystanders or security and emergency personnel, who can then be hurt by a second attacker.
Through the app, commanders can easily visualize which forces they have in the field and know who to send where, saving precious time in responding to the event.
Is this app up to the task?
The system that Octopus has built looks so good that it is scary. When a crisis hits, the most important factors for success lay in their ability to respond quickly and have a clear picture of all the players in the field.
Upon first glance, the team seems to have filled in many of the gaps where a security response can fail. Moreover the ability to coordinate all of the available resources can be a real boon for anyone attempting to handle a city-wide crisis. This can be particularly helpful in places like Israel where there are separate numbers for each of the emergency services – 100 for the police, 101 for ambulances, 102 for fire – especially when multiple actors are needed.
For now, Octopus seems to be the only service provider that covers both the cyber and physical angles to such an extensive degree. Companies like Reporty have developed technology that also aims to aid emergency situations, with users’ phones being turned into on-site cameras for relaying information back to the call center.
Unfortunately, we are likely to see a rise in the demand for more ‘safe city’ technologies as attacks like these remain a threat. Hopefully systems like Octopus can make the job of responding to these situations far more effective.