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Cambridge-constabulary_blog_imagePublic safety officials hold a breadth of tremendous responsibility. From overseeing citywide events to responding to natural disasters to anticipating and responding to manmade threats, officials are constantly seeking innovative ways to get the information they need to protect their communities. To do this, they often need ways to monitor things like public sentiment, crowd movement, and local infrastructure conditions, whether during a planned event like a sporting event or parade or in emergency response scenarios. Intelligence is the backbone of effective public safety, and today, more insight exists than ever before as many citizens share information using popular social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Social networking (along with mobility, the cloud and big data) has been recognized as one of the major trends shaping IT today, and many public sector organizations have been left searching for the best ways to use these technologies to advance their missions. With tools like Microsoft Social Listening (MSL), law enforcement agencies and first responders can transform the data from social networking feeds into situational awareness and actionable intelligence that helps enable more effective response and safer communities.

Since the data from social platforms has always been publicly available, the idea of using social media to track things like real-time crowd movement or sentiment is not new. Yet as these networks have grown, so has the volume of information being shared. Without analytics tools to help collect, analyze, and visualize the data, the magnitude of available open source data quickly becomes overwhelming and nearly impossible to use effectively.

Microsoft Social Listening is an analytics tool that has been incorporated into Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM offering to help open up new avenues of social intelligence for both commercial and public sector users. With it, organizations can gather information from multiple channels and analyze it—in native language without translation—to provide improved situational awareness in near real time. This intelligence is useful not only in planning for scheduled events but also for responding to disasters when bandwidth is at a premium and properly allocating resources can mean the difference between saving and losing lives. For first responders, the ability to monitor citizens on social networks can help quickly identify what they need, and new geospatial tools can pinpoint where it is needed. These networks provide a picture—sometimes literally—of the situation they are responding to before they arrive on the scene.

“Intelligence gathering capabilities have always been critical, but today so is our ability to interact with the public, our partners, and local media through social media channels,” said Phil Silvester, Strategy and Programme Manager for Cambridgeshire Constabulary, a U.K.-based police force serving more than 700,000 citizens. “Now, not only are we able to communicate more directly, but we’re also able to feed this information straight into our business intelligence/market intelligence in order to better understand our community’s needs.”

“The ability to translate this data collection into visualizations is huge because it makes the data not only far easier understand, but also easier to respond to as well,” Silvester said.

Many public sector agencies are already using the Microsoft Dynamics CRM suite for case management and community initiatives, but its capacity for social listening offers so much more. For example, Seattle’s annual Bike to Work Day, puts thousands of additional riders onto the city’s streets and 35 miles of bike routes. Such a large-scale event has the potential to significantly affect traffic patterns and congestion points, both for riders and for drivers, and knowing just where to station police to keep traffic moving smoothly can be a challenge. Monitoring real time communications such as Twitter feeds of the event can help officials see how people are moving and spot potential logjams so that traffic officers can be positioned proactively to head off delays before they become problems.

The use of social analytics to engage and protect the public still is in the early phase of adoption. Integrating it into a common toolset brings this ability to everyone, not just an elite few at high costs, and brings new value to existing sources of unstructured open source data – which in turn can give law enforcement and public safety officials a powerful new way to understand, respond to and anticipate situations in their communities.

Ayrianne Davis
Applications Lead, Worldwide Public Sector