(UPDATED November 20, 2011)
Don’t Panic, make a PACT
Much like preparing for an earthquake, a stroke, or any other event that could happen without warning, people who are at risk for detention could be well served by being prepared.
It will be critical to get people prepared to the point that when a crisis happens, everyone knows what to do and panic isn’t given a chance to set in. People will each have pre-assigned roles, so all they have to do is execute on them, which will be all they’re able to do in such a charged environment.
To make it easy to remember, the preparedness from pre-detention to (ideally) release, is called PACT. The steps are illustrated below.
People in high risk areas will be encouraged to attend short workshops with their loved ones on what to do in case of abduction. It will be like CPR training, something that everyone has to do at a certain age, and renew after time. It will cover things like: what to do to minimize chances of detention (if possible), having an emergency plan (like in earthquake zones, where food is stored, meet-up points are established, etc), what to do if you suspect you're about to be taken, etc. A guide such as Amjad's A to Z will be distributed and walked through.
The workshops will kick off an exercise where people will set their emergency plan and set up either their app or sms list or low tech solution (see ACT). People will also be encouraged to tell their loved ones about the plan and designate specific people to do specific things if detention should happen, because people when stressed will be more able to follow a pre-set plan then figure out who should do what (see inspiration on serious illness, below).
Where appropriate, there could be a central website that stores everything (see (http://www.refunite.org/) as inspiration). If people don’t have internet access community support people could help them input stuff, or a manual system could be used. The account would be secure with pseudonyms to protect everyone.
Due to security concerns, workshops may need to be ad-hoc and organized in small groups in homes or other safe places. Alternatively, depending on how safe the internet is, information may be disseminated that way.
Because of such concerns, I suggest that people set up pseudonyms from the start and never reveal true identities. When they form their support groups, everyone within them will have a protected identity.
An ACT is a trigger that kicks off the prepared plan. There are various types of triggers articulated below.
A. A smart phone app could leverage everything set up in the PREPARE stage or could be the place people input and update their plans, but is ultimately the tool for getting word out that something has gone wrong. This can be done in a couple of ways. Either the app has a button to press (e.g., https://market.android.com/details?id=us.quadrant2.arrested), or, if technically feasible, a combination of keys will trigger the app (so people don’t have to go into the phone, losing precious seconds). The combo should be unlikely to be hit accidentally but could be really easy to remember in a panic, and won’t require getting past a password. Or per Ying's suggestion, it could be triggered by a voice command. Per Marlon's suggestion, people could set the "time-out" protection on their apps so they don't accidentally send a panic note as a false alarm. As per David’s suggestion, this could also kick-off a voicemail recording, to be sent out with the picture to help people triangulate what happened. And, as per James' suggestion, this button push could also trigger an automatic wipe of anything digital and networked - the phone, questionable friend connections on social networks, even potentially a hard drive.
B. An SMS pre-set group (e.g., http://instedd.org/technologies/geochat/, http://instedd.org/technologies/nuntium/ thanks Jon and Penelope) could be a lower tech way to trigger ACTion. It would be tied into the same plan developed in step 1, but would be triggered by a text message to a specific number (e.g., 1234) that would indicate something had happened. Again, if it is technically feasible for someone to send this text by pressing a combination of buttons or better yet a voice command, without having to unlock the phone, that would be ideal. This version could also trigger the voicemail recording and automatic wipe.
C. Low tech devices: something that requires no technology whatsoever, such as a bracelet that can be thrown (like a medical alert bracelet), a key fob (which has the advantage that people will notice the keys and be more likely to pick it up), a pre-filled wallet card with a ribbon attached to easily pull it out of the wallet, or a watch (such as what Pamela suggests), could be valuable for those who either don’t have phones or don’t want to leave them behind. The bracelet version could be like a charm bracelet, so various charms could be scattered to spread the message. Either they could send a signal that would be picked up, or have a code that someone could type into a website. To minimize security concerns, these low tech devices should only have codes, never linking without a secure password to an individual. So, an alert can be triggered and only if people have the right information to unlock it will they know the identity of the person affected. For instance, as per Sushmita's idea, family and friends could have special keys to unlock innocuous looking codes, to find information on where their loved ones are or a hotline number to find out more.
D. As per David’s suggestion, particularly high-risk people could develop a check-in plan, so an ACTion is triggered when they don’t show up for a regular commitment, without the need for any device.
It is important to have a variety of options, but also to keep in mind that people will likely not want to carry something that stands out. So, I'd recommend starting with the SMS group and a simple key-fob with a URL on it. But please see outstanding questions below for next steps.
3. COMMUNICATE AND COORDINATE
Once the trigger happens, an alert is sent to everyone on the pre-set list, either through the website or through a phone tree. They can either keep track of their jobs and share news on a website such as (http://www.refunite.org/) with a version of the A to Z plus a secure location for friends to connect, or stay on top of things through a printed version which includes phone numbers of everyone on the list (lawyers, friends, family, colleagues, etc).
4. TALK ABOUT IT
The last thing, as appropriate throughout the ordeal and after it, is for people to share information with others: other detainees’ families, media, NGOs, etc. The website supports this and encourages people to do it as they feel appropriate (never pushing anyone into sharing prematurely).
A NOTE ON SAFETY
A few people have pointed out that in high-detention areas speaking about detention can be a security challenge. The last thing we want is for anyone’s security to be at risk for helping. To that end, I suggested a few ideas throughout the concept, but if anyone has other suggestions for further safety measures please do share them. This will be one of the key considerations to address in the implementation phase. Thanks to Amanda, Ally, and Sushmita for raising the security angle.
As there are a lot of variations in the above, we'll need to:
- answer several questions (starter list below),
- pick a target population to use for a pilot, and
- hone in on the minimum viable proposition for their needs.
Outstanding questions to be explored with experts:
- How sensitive is the timing really? Do people have mere seconds to get a message out? How much time should we allow for a “mistaken” action to be recalled? How much time can we afford to wait before the path goes cold?
- What’s the most valuable type of message to get out in a physical form? If we can’t send a message (ideal), is having a single item (e.g., keyfob) that is left behind or thrown valuable? Or is having multiple items (e.g., the bracelet that can be broken apart) better? How do we anticipate people will notice and pick up the “messages” left by these tangible things?
- What level of internet connection is available in highly affected parts of the world?
- What can be digitally wiped clean with a remote trigger? (see ACT section)
- What options do we have for increasing security without reducing the breadth of people who can use the tools?
(UPDATE November 27, 2011)
Thanks to everyone for the comments during evaluation phase. I’d like to address a few of them:
Per Jenny and Angeliki’s comments, there will be times when technology is not available, or when people don’t have time to use it (e.g., if they’re unconscious before being detained). For these instances, and as a back-up in general, I believe it is a good idea to have a sort of “check-in” plan, either for daily use or for certain circumstances. In the case Angeliki discusses, detention is happening during protests. So, if people are putting themselves into potential situations like that, they can set up a check-in plan ahead of time, and if they don’t phone a friend afterwards to confirm they made it home safely, this triggers an alert.
Regarding technology, Vincent has found a great app that we could leverage:
Emily points out that the pre-set plan could benefit from a point person that helps organize it and reach out to people. I really like this idea as it can be up to that person to make the call as to when to start the plan in action, and to galvanize people.
Lastly, Paul mentions a really interesting challenge – getting someone to pick up a dropped off card, keyfob, etc and actually dial the number or go to the website. This is definitely going to be a design consideration in the implementation of this concept. It would be good to hear from those who’ve been in similar situations – what would make you more likely to call in? A monetary reward, perhaps knowing something about the person behind it (if that could be done in a safe way), knowing that it was good karma as the same system may work for you someday?