Super Bowl Command Center Monitors Parking Gripes, Terrorist Threats

The private company behind the Super Bowl's official Social Media Command Center isn't just tweeting fans transit tips, they're monitoring social media for game-day threats by would-be terrorists. And Madonna.

What do Justin Bieber and potholes have in common? This isn't, actually, a joke. The Super Bowl Host Committee in Indianapolis, along with Indiana-based private social media company Raidious, have set up a giant Social Media Command Center in downtown Indianapolis (right, and yes, those are Macs) for the Super Bowl, and they're already monitoring Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube, and Flickr. They'll watch for tweeted gripes about roads and statuses about parking—plus, you know, any chatter from would-be terrorists looking to create panic with a dirty bomb.

Oh, and they'll keep extra special sharp tabs on Madonna, Justin Bieber, and any other A-list attendees to make sure they find Indianapolis' amenities suitable.

Running the Super Bowl's social media operation will be Raidious's largest project to date (other corporate clients include the Indianapolis Colts, Comcast, and Adidas). Big-game ops will be staffed by 50 employees and volunteers—college students, mostly. 

According to Raidious CEO Taulbee Jackson, the Command Center's main goal is to actively work with visitors and respond in crisis and safety situations if needed. Staff, working on an Awareness, Inc. platform, have a list of approximately 300 keywords to be monitored (along with the Twitter hashtag #social46). Visitors to Indianapolis will receive assistance with their visit—and monitoring for other purposes will continually take place.

Tweets and other social media are filtered by geolocation; Raidious is focusing on tweets and Facebook posts made in Indianapolis and the immediate vicinity. A major part of Raidious' strategy focuses on sentiment response—Twitter messages ragging on Indianapolis or the Super Bowl visit experience are much more likely to get a rapid response. As of Thursday night, the official Super Bowl Host Committee Twitter account @superbowl2012 was busy steering Indianapolis visitors and guests to weekend concerts and festival events; Raidious was also running an extremely busy guest services operation on the Super Bowl 2012 Facebook page.

Then there's the whole first-line-of-defense-against-terrorism thing. A major part of the Social Media Command Center's duties will consist of emergency management and as-needed crisis assistance. Just outside of Indianapolis, a federal command center has been set up with officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who will be in contact with the Social Media Command Center—its staffers and supporting undergrads. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced at a Wednesday press conference that over 35 federal or component law enforcement agencies were collaborating on Super Bowl security. At the Command Center, redundant Internet connections and network infrastructure have been added; all employees are also equipped with smartphones in case of a power outage.

One of the Social Media Command Center's stated goals is to “respond first to any safety oriented issue/crisis.” So while the FBI monitors social media for a variety of keywords that could refer to a terrorist attack or criminal incident at the Super Bowl, the Command Center does its part (while also making sure you don't get a pricey ticket for parking in the wrong zone).

In fact, all social media data related to the Super Bowl is being subjected to intensive post-publishing analytics: Purdue University's Homeland Security Institute has been producing daily reports on Super Bowl social media chatter on behalf of the Super Bowl Host Committee and the Indiana Office of Technology. As a sort of tit-for-tat, the Homeland Security Institute's reports also include information on parking, traffic, and public safety trends.

The Command Center is also actively monitoring the Twitter feeds of celebrities attending the game or participating in concerts or events Super Bowl Weekend. If a famous musician, athlete, or actor makes a negative statement—say criticizing an aspect of their trip—Raidious' team will be able to quickly help sort things out. 

After the Indianapolis Super Bowl Committee bought Raidious onto the project in 2010, the project and Command Center were set up over a period of nine months. Volunteers for the Command Center were trained in corporate PR best practices and set up to work on a stripped-down version of the Awareness interface.

As for learning to spot bona fide terrorist threats—how hard could that really be?  

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.

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