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Cell phones, Pagers and BlackBerries on Anti-Terrorist Front Line

Cell phones, pagers and Black and BlueBerries may soon replace CNN and the radio at the cutting edge of terrorism prevention and response efforts, emergency preparedness expert Michael J. Hopmeier told a recent NATO conference on risk assessment and risk communication related to bioterrorism, held in Ein Gedi, Israel.

"In any crisis situation, authorities must educate, inform and direct the public to ensure that situations of chaos do not result in mind-numbing panic and confusion," Hopmeier said. "Any communications strategy should have as its goal, an en mass public response that is logical, predictable and benefits the most number of people."

Hopmeier is the president of Unconventional Concepts Inc., a Mary Esther, Florida-based engineering and scientific consulting firm specializing in crisis management and integrated federal/civilian disaster response.

"Effective communications requires that the public be educated ahead of time about what to do during a terrorist attack," Hopmeier noted. "But terrorism's randomness and uncertainty also requires that authorities use those technologies that reach the greatest number of people in the least amount of time."

"Even relatively dynamic media such as television and radio may not be enough to calm fears and to provide real-time answers to a frightened public," Hopmeier said.

Individual communications devices such as cell phones, pagers and Black and BlueBerries are now widely distributed among Western countries and can be easily targeted according to population, location, time and demographics, he added.

"There is an almost 60 percent penetration rate of cell phones in the U.S., reaching up to 100 percent in countries such as Britain and Italy," Hopmeier said. That, he said, already provides the basis for individuals to voluntarily receive information electronically about imminent threats and actual attacks from a central authority.

Hopmeier noted that citizens can also be "digitally deputized" to report suspicious activities by using their cell phones, text messaging, or even by sending photos of suspicious individuals to a central reporting unit. "In Iraq, mobile telephone text messages already allow civilians to anonymously pass information to authorities from the safety of their own homes."

Hank Christen, UCI director of emergency response operations, noted that: "In the United States, we call this reverse 911. New technology allows emergency management centers to immediately send priority messages and warnings to appropriate agencies, organizations or groups of private citizens."

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