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A Modest Proposal for a FReepers "Instant Alert Network"
Butter Pecan Fan ^ | November 3, 2001 | butter pecan fan

Posted on 11/03/2001 11:55:35 AM PST by butter pecan fan

A Modest Proposal for a FReepers "Instant Alert Network"


On the morning of September 11, I was just getting ready to go in to work when the phone rang. It was one of our neighbors. "Did you know that two airplanes just flew into the World Trade Center in New York?"

No, we didn't. At the time, we didn't have our TV on. Neither did my wife's parents, who were doing repair work on a rental property and didn't hear the news until hours later.

In the days since then, I've pondered how I might set up a system to instantly alert myself if something really major and threatening should happen: a nuclear event, a mass aerial anthrax attack, a major dam attack or a coordinated series of bomb blasts in major cities. In such an event, immediate notification =could= make a life-or-death difference.

My first idea was to create a computer system which would periodically scan major news web sites for key phrases in the top news items (such as "nuclear plant"), and automatically trigger a phone call to my home, any time of day or night when such phrases were found. Doable, but there were three major drawbacks to such a plan. First, a lot of work to set up. More importantly, too much delay between the start of a major event, its appearance in the online major media, and the triggering of the phone call. And most importantly of all, too inaccurate. Who wants to be awakened at 3:30 a.m. by the news "More Troops to Protect Nuclear Plant"?

I would now like to propose an "instant alert system" for major threatening events which will overcome all three of those problems, a system which I'm tentatively calling "FReepAlert."

Here's an example of how FReepAlert could work:

4:36 a.m., Central Standard Time: A sleeping FReeper in Illinois is awakened by a phone call from her husband, an early-shift law-enforcement officer in Joliet. It appears that one of the region's nuclear power plants is under sudden and ferocious terrorist attack. Law enforcement and military units are en route.

4:38 a.m.: "BeenThereDoneThat" begins to activate the FReepAlert network by dialing the phone number of "2old2worry" in Philadelphia. At the same time, she boots up her computer and connects to an online police scanner.

4:39 a.m.: "BeenThereDoneThat" gives up on "2old2worry," who left less than 10 minutes ago for work and doesn't have a cell phone in his car. Undaunted, she dials the number of "HillaryforDogcatcher" in Los Angeles, and rouses her from a sound sleep. She also posts a brief message in the FreeRepublic "Breaking News" section: "SCANNER SAYS ILLINOIS NUCLEAR PLANT UNDER ATTACK."

4:43a.m.: "BeenThereDoneThat" hangs up the phone and, being close to the power plant, begins to prepare for possible evacuation. It is seven minutes since she received first notification of the event from her husband, and her job is essentially done. She has activated the network.

4:41 to 5:00 a.m: The initial chain set off by "BeenThereDoneThat" alerts 5 more people. Thirty-two early-bird FReepers spot the news online. Six of these, being close nuclear power plants of their own in other parts of the country, tune in to local police scanners. Three others are part of FReepAlert. All three of these activate different portions of the FReepAlert chain from that already activated by "BeenThereDoneThat."

5:02 a.m: A FReeper monitoring a police scanner in California picks up a report of a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant there. He immediately posts the news online.

5:08 a.m.: People on the East Coast are starting to wake up, since it's just after 6:00 a.m. there. However, most have not turned on their TV, so they don't see CNN's brief initial report that a power plant in Illinois appears to be under attack. It is twenty-two minutes since BeenThereDoneThat received a phone call from her husband. More than 50 FReepers have received phone calls (only 3 of whom would've heard the news on CNN), and dozens more have already learned the news online. Several more FReepers spot the CNN news and activate other portions of the FReepAlert chain.

5:10 a.m.: Two minutes after the first news breaks on CNN, 150 FReepers learn the attack in Illinois has been successfully repulsed. At least 6 terrorists are dead, and 3 police officers have been killed or wounded.

By 5:16 a.m, just over 70% of FReepAlert chain members have now been informed, as opposed to only 6% of the American population. This ratio is the same for FReepers in the State of California, where it is 3:16 a.m. Several FReepAlert members in Southern California are preparing for possible evacuation should that become necessary.

Almost none of the State's non-FReepers residents are aware of the attack in their State, since 99% are asleep; and in any event, the news has yet to break on CNN. It will be hours before some of these learn what's going on. A few who don't hear for hours will be local FReepers; though not part of the FReepAlert chain.

5:18 a.m.: CNN reports that law enforcement officers appear to have the Illinois power plant situation "under control." Multiple units are in pursuit of several terrorists who are fleeing in a green minivan.

Meanwhile, eleven armed terrorists enter the restricted area of a nuclear power plant in California.

How the Network Will Actually Work

The network will basically be defined by three things: A) Alert Rules; B) the way the network is set up, and C)the Alert Procedures.

A) Alert Rules.

Clear rules must be established for what is and is not a FReepAlertable emergency. The key question is, "Does this information indicate there the likelihood of an immediate and serious threat to people in various parts of the country, or to large numbers of people (many hundreds, or thousands) in a single area?" Threats could be divided into "daytime" and "24-hour" categories, based on the seriousness, immediateness, prior knowledge and credibility of the news threat.



Seriousness Immediacy Prior Knowledge Credibility Alert Level

With no prior warning, news comes from a Tennessee hospital of a *confirmed* case of smallpox.


Fairly low



Daytime alert, since people may need to make preparations, and need to do so before a possible general public panic.

News of a confirmed case of smallpox 24 hours after suspicions first reported.


Somewhat low

24 hours


No alert needed, because of the 24 hours prior knowledge

Suitcase nuke explodes in downtown Seattle at 2 a.m.

Very high

Very high, esp. with public panic



24-hour alert.

DEBKAfile reports hundreds of thousands of soldiers massing on the Russia-Afghanistan border.

Moderate, for Americans

Not terribly immediate


Very low, since DEBKAfile is not considered by most of us to be a credible source... also, there IS no Russia-Afghanistan border... :-)


I would propose to list several such examples for FReepAlert members, representative of the kinds of scenarios most likely to occur, and include clear criteria for FReepAlert members to decide whether an unlisted threat is a 24-hour alert, daytime alert, or no alert. Only 24-hour alerts would be passed on between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

B) How the Network Will Be Set Up.

The network could be described as a chain, or perhaps more accurately, as a ring. The ring structure means that any major alert given should be able to travel the entire length of the chain and return home, at which point, of course, alert notification would end.

The chain would obviously be broken if a member is not able to reach the next member in line. However, as shown in the example we started with, there is an easy way around this.

Each member of the chain will possess contact information for the next 4 members in the chain. I won't bore you with the math, but if there's a two-thirds chance of getting straight through to any given member, then you stand a 98.8% chance of being able to immediately pass on an alert. On average, you would expect more than 50 links to be completed before the chain would break down. The reliability of the chain would be even stronger at night, when most people are home and reachable in a major emergency.

The daytime hours, are also the hours when FReepers will be more available to pay attention to the news. In reality, then, you wouldn't expect major portions of the chain to be broken for long, because someone somewhere in the next section after the break would pick up the news and restart the chain.

In fact, as explained in the example, in a major crisis several sections of the chain would go active all at once, with the chains of alert dying out when they hit a section where the news has already been heard.

There's also a way make the chain even more reliable (and blindingly fast) in the event of a major middle-of-the-night emergency (such as a nuclear reactor core meltdown). To do so, the FReepAlert "host" (probably me, but this could alternately be someone centrally associated with the FreeRepublic web site) would be notified as part of the first alert. The host would then activate several sections of the chain simultaneously simply by making 5 or 6 phone calls to people at different points in the chain. Using this method with the example scenario above, instead of "more than 50" FReepers already notified by phone by the time a major network first breaks the news, hundreds could already be aware of the situation.

To protect against potential abuse by telemarketer types, no member ( host excepted for reasons detailed below) would possess contact information for more than 4 other people. Any abusing telemarketer could be dropped from the chain upon complaint to the host. So too could a "Chicken Little" who needlessly and repetitively proclaims the sky is falling at 3 a.m., based on dubious reports.

The host would possess a more extensive list of contact information, for several reasons. One is the need, assuming the network reaches a reasonable size, to be able to activate several sections of the ring at once in a major crisis. Also, he would always need to know the latest members to join simply in order to complete the loop and make the network into a ring instead of a one-way chain. When a new member joined, the host would also need to send out the list of 4 contacts for that member.

The host, being located at the "seam" where the loop reconnects onto itself, would be the only member to have a list of contacts which would change when a new member joins. All other members would keep the same contact list for as long as they were part of FReepAlert, which makes the alert system stable and easy to use.

C) Alert Procedures.

I will need to work up a simple, clear draft list of alert procedures which each member will agree to. Briefly, you can get a rough idea of likely procedures from the examples above:

* keep your contact list in an appropriate, findable location or locations.

* if you become aware of a threat, assess its seriousness, immediateness and credibility, as well as how much people are already aware of it.

* if it looks like a major 24-hour alert, and it's the middle of the night, phone the host.

* contact the next person in the chain, and also post a message on FreeRepublic.

* if you can't contact the first person on your list, go to the next one, until you get through.

* once you've contacted the next person, that person will take over and call the next.

* if one of your contacts gets skipped over in the chain (for example, the first person wasn't home), then try to call that person or persons later, because the chain has moved on without them and they won't hear unless they hear from you.

* if you change your contact information or decide to drop out, let the host know so he can alert the 4 people behind you who have your information, and prevent future weaknesses in the chain.

Where From Here?

I would propose to proceed by taking comments and input (NOT contact information!) at this time concerning the FReepAlert idea, its design and operation. Then this proposal will be edited based on some of that input, and clearer rules and procedures set out.

Once I have a sense that people are reasonably happy with the design of things, I would begin taking contact information for those who would like to participate.


FReepAlert can be set up as a functional network of practically any size, from two participants to thousands. In the event of a major crisis, terrorist or otherwise, FReepAlert could literally be a "life saver".


TOPICS: Announcements; Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: fr; instantalertnetwork
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1 posted on 11/03/2001 11:55:35 AM PST by butter pecan fan
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To: butter pecan fan
HAVE LONG FELT THAT, thought that something like this should be set up. . . redundantly.
2 posted on 11/03/2001 12:13:29 PM PST by Quix
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To: butter pecan fan
Very good and well thought-out plan, but I would like to suggest something else. It would seem to me that it might be good to consider a high-alert news area that does not get bumped out of position until the alert has been disarmed. So, when a freeper gets online he is immediately alerted to whatever major situation has developed and will not have to scan the news items to pick it up. High alert could be an area posted in red that stay on the top, or something like that. You think?
3 posted on 11/03/2001 12:14:35 PM PST by MistyCA
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To: mystomachisturning
I think FReepers in major cities should volunteer to buy police scanners. Not all cities’ police channels are on the internet, especially Channel 2, 3, etc. Also, we need some people to monitor state police and highway patrols in each state.

Maybe we could work this out through the state by state messages that show up when we post our own state flags on our profile pages.

4 posted on 11/03/2001 12:21:59 PM PST by Fred25
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To: Fred25
Good idea. I already have one :) I am not, however, in a major city in California.
5 posted on 11/03/2001 12:30:55 PM PST by MistyCA
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To: butter pecan fan
If FR had some sort of XML setup on their site where you could pull down news articles and their ranking (ie "vanity" to "cops find truck of bombs in Mall" to "blowing up of bridge in San Fran") then someone could do this themselves.
You would continiously poll the site for new stories and then decide what to do with them. I would mail my cell phone, for example.
To do this requires that all articles are a) factual and b) properly labeled.
I say XML as you can encode values into the stream so that you can easily pick them out later on. HTML is hard to parse.
6 posted on 11/03/2001 12:32:07 PM PST by lelio
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To: butter pecan fan
Also, I think we need a running thread that has emergency, medical, and survival information and links. The government has not yet put out any information at all about how people who are down-wind from nuclear power plants should evacuate rapidly. They should usually evacuate at right-angles to the prevailing winds. They shouldn’t drive down-wind because the wind will follow them, and of course they shouldn’t go up wind. Most younger people today don’t know this.

We’ve got a whole lot of Mormons here who are experts on disaster survival supplies, many people in the South who have had to evacuate from tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods, a few scientists who know about nuclear power plants (and iodine pills), and other people who have other expert knowledge.

We should keep rumors off those threads. If we want to start a sidebar rumor and homeopathic thread, we can do that too.

I think we need a “Potential Terrorist Alert and Profile” thread. We can add names, places, etc. of people we suspect might be anti-American male foreign-national Islamics, people we can keep an eye on.

We need an emergency-phone-number government agency thread, listing the CDC, FBI, Justice Dept., and maybe also local and state phone numbers and links for local emergency agencies.

7 posted on 11/03/2001 12:35:32 PM PST by Fred25
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To: Fred25
I think FReepers in major cities should volunteer to buy police scanners.
Great idea! I listen to my friend's scanner over the internet (uses IceCast) and you do get quite a bit of info on it (course a lot of it is parking violations). Maybe a forum on FR for police scan's transcripts?
8 posted on 11/03/2001 12:36:38 PM PST by lelio
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To: butter pecan fan; Bob J; The Shrew; Nita Nupress; logos; Dog Gone; Jim the Just; OwenKellogg
Nice work. In the military, we had such things ("phone trees", "recall rosters", etc.), so I get your idea. Anyone who has spent time in the military does.

In some ways, FR already does exactly what you are suggesting. Real-time, cross-time-zone information, etc. It seems that you wish to "formalize" it a bit more. Worthy of discussion, to say the least. Nice post.

9 posted on 11/03/2001 12:36:51 PM PST by RightOnline
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To: Quix
I would like to suggest something else. Perhaps the ring of calls should be structured so that all that is said is "Freep-Alert". That triggers each person into operation but does not slow down the process by long explanations over the phone, etc. I can well imagine each person being called saying, "What? What's going on?" And that slows down the whole process. The Freep-alert can then go to whomever answers the phone. No explanations are/should be required.
10 posted on 11/03/2001 12:38:11 PM PST by MistyCA
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To: Fred25
I think we need a “Potential Terrorist Alert and Profile” thread.
Again, another great idea on this thread. And even more better as you know the local police and FBI don't want to publize this info.
11 posted on 11/03/2001 12:40:39 PM PST by lelio
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To: mystomachisturning
"It would seem to me that it might be good to consider a high-alert news area that does not get bumped out of position until the alert has been disarmed."

I see a potential abuse with this. If a high alert area is used, what is to prevent someone from posting vanities there? It may need to go through Jim or a moderator for authorization. But, it's a very good idea.

12 posted on 11/03/2001 12:41:03 PM PST by WIMom
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To: mystomachisturning
Don’t you have a nuke plant around there somewhere? Isn’t there one at San Luis Obispo? You could scan for the CHP. If LA has to evacuate, highway 101 North will be filled with cars.
13 posted on 11/03/2001 12:42:06 PM PST by Fred25
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To: butter pecan fan
Besides being my favorite ice cream, you did a good job with this post. ;-)
14 posted on 11/03/2001 12:42:40 PM PST by WIMom
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To: lelio
Yes, I think we need to have a “hard facts” thread and a separate sidebar “rumor” thread so we can keep all the rumors off the main thread. I have collected a number of militant Islamic English-language message board addresses that we could keep an eye on.
15 posted on 11/03/2001 12:45:19 PM PST by Fred25
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To: WIMom
If a high alert area is used, what is to prevent someone from posting vanities there? It may need to go through Jim or a moderator for authorization.
Not being too familiar with the workings of FR, isn't there a mechanism for the moderators to look over posts right now and delete them? Maybe a system where they vote on the validity of the posts?
They could also make sure that the severity of the post and all pertinent info is included in a short message. Then just send out one email / pager notification to everyone that signed up for the service.
You could charge $5/month for it to pay for a "salary" for the moderators that would have to do a couple hours work a month on it.
16 posted on 11/03/2001 12:47:10 PM PST by lelio
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To: WIMom
If a high alert area is used, what is to prevent someone from posting vanities there?

there is always a potential for abuse, regardless of what you are attempting to do. However, that does not eliminate the need to have something like that. It would be like breaking the glass on a fire alarm! How many of us have ever done that? I am suggesting an area that is only meant to warn on high alert subjects.....San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge being blown sky high, for instance. Nuclear facility penetrated and under control of terrorists, for instance.

I can certainly understand your point, as we would not want to have a bunch of white powdery substance warnings posted that turn out to be false alarms. The entire nation does not have to wake up to find out that a letter was discovered in a postal facility in New Jersey. Obviously, this would require some thought, or perhaps it should only be posted to by password entry according to rules established by the phone ring.

Just an idea.

17 posted on 11/03/2001 12:49:25 PM PST by MistyCA
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To: butter pecan fan
It is a go here. Buffalo/Niagara Falls /Ontario..(think power east coast).....will purchase scanner..I think we use both (scanners and web) in Buffalo..but they have a "secret" channel not for the public to hear..will have to talk to cops!
18 posted on 11/03/2001 12:50:27 PM PST by RnMomof7
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To: Fred25
My scanner is set up for all major departments (including airport traffic). Lordy be, do I have a nuclear facility near me????? I better ask, huh? :(
19 posted on 11/03/2001 12:51:33 PM PST by MistyCA
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To: lelio
I think we have thread monitors now, a group of individuals. If you hit the “abuse” button, you can send them a message. I think you are supposed to add your name to the message if you want them to know who you are.

I would suggest thread titles something like.....





If you post a message in the first post of the thread that reads something like this.... “PLEASE DON’T POST PHOTOS OR TRIVIAL INFORMATION”, the posters will usually abide by the request.

20 posted on 11/03/2001 12:54:08 PM PST by Fred25
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