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Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't Over-Share!

*Appeared in the Sun-Times Beacon News

The number of Facebook users has exceeded the United States population. The online social network is fast becoming the most powerful social interaction tool in the world. It closes the gap between friends and family from across the miles and allows us to get to know our neighbors a little better.

Some argue that Facebook allows people to hide behind their computers rather than have real, social interaction with others. I disagree. I see it as another communication tool that enhances the relationships we form with our friends and acquaintances. In our busy lives, we don’t get to connect with those we care about as often as we would like so Facebook is a nice way to stay in touch. We share our thoughts in the form of a status update, we link videos and articles that resonate with us, and we post our vacation pictures in real time.

Although posting vacation pictures is a great way for others to share in our travel experience, believe it or not, it also puts us at risk for thugs breaking into our homes and robbing us blind. (You had to know I was going to take it down this road!) It is so tempting to share our hardships while in the security line at the airport and then post the picture of the long awaited umbrella drink as soon as we’ve landed at our destination. I am guilty of this myself. In fact, I fell into a false sense of security because I assumed that since my profile is set to “private”, unauthorized people will not see my content. However, after sitting down with a computer guru for a few minutes I quickly learned that my assumption was incorrect. Hacking Facebook is a cottage industry and does not pose much of a challenge for a tech savvy individual with dishonorable intent.

Websites are now popping up that prey on unsuspecting Facebook and Twitter users. A website created by a Danish web developer uses what people post on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reveal the location of empty homes. (The site shall remain nameless because I refuse to give the developers a free plug.) The site works by sifting through status updates to pinpoint users who are advertising their vacation destinations. Once they’ve hacked into a page, it’s not difficult to pinpoint a location by searching a name in one of the many Internet search engines. You would be astounded how easy it is to determine where a person lives from the white pages on-line or from real estate transactions that are easily searchable with merely a name.

Facebook is making it even easier to share locations with your connections with the introduction of a new feature called “places”. If you are using Facebook on a smart phone, the internal GPS sniffs the air for local Wi-Fi networks and compares them to a map of known network locations. If you are at the movies, your phone will quickly figure out which cinema you are in. While it won’t identify that you are in Theater 5 watching a Steven Seagal film, it is easy to surmise that you will be gone from your home for roughly two hours. Armed with that knowledge, I could conceivably break into your home in that time frame and steal your belongings before you’ve had the chance to wipe the popcorn butter from your chin.

People use these technologies to connect with friends and find things that may be of interest to them. The risk comes when too much information is put out there. Be conscious of over-sharing, the potential risk that might result, and the unintended consequences.

We all want to see the pictures from your family reunion in Tulsa, but it might be smarter to share after you get home.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Play Like You Practice

Before Jim Carrey catapulted to fame on the big screen he was a cast member on the sitcom, “In Living Color”. He portrayed a character named Fire Marshal Bill whose scarred face and safety advisories included demonstrating (usually on himself) the very disaster he was warning against. The slapstick comedy was a hilarious parody of Fire Marshals everywhere which is why I began looking for similarities when I met real life Fire Inspector Marty Wolding.

I’ve been attending school safety inspections throughout Aurora as a police representative and I wondered if anyone else at the meetings was attempting to parallel Fire Marshal Bill with Fire Inspector Marty. Fortunately for the well being of every school-aged child in the City of Aurora, Marty bears no similarities to Jim Carrey’s character. (My thoughts otherwise were only short-lived senses of private amusement in my own head which is not uncommon for me).

In fact, Fire Inspector Marty takes his job very seriously. This is evidenced by the posse of school officials that follow him around school campuses scribbling feverishly as he barks out the not-so-obvious hazards along the way. I don’t think like a firefighter so he has my undivided attention when he points out the seemingly harmless dangers in the school environment. During our visit to a west side elementary school, Inspector Marty advised the principal that the artwork on the walls was nearing the 50% accumulation rule and no more could be affixed. He explained that if the artwork were to ignite, the paper would accelerate the flames and sternly advised that flames travel faster than people. At one point, Marty actually began removing chains made of construction paper because they were dangling in a hallway corridor. What I see as children’s’ art, he sees as a fire hazard and makes no apologies for removing anything that would compromise the safety and well being of a child.

I attend these meetings with several other police officers so we can offer a perspective on the procedures to take should a dangerous incident occur on school grounds. Police officers and fire fighters are first responders but the situation dictates who will take the lead. When responding to a fire, the police assist the firefighters to make their jobs easier. Conversely, if an incident is criminal in nature, the fire department will stage on the scene and follow our lead. Since we work in tandem, it is crucial that these inspections are attended by representatives from each of our respective professions.

You may not often think of the planning and preparation that goes into critical incident training. You may not even know that your child had a fire or lockdown drill since school went back in session. Most people don’t concern themselves with preparedness because they honestly believe that tragedies only happen to other people. That very mind-set could be the difference between life and death and so it is imperative that you talk with your kids about the importance of these drills.

People like Fire Inspector Marty, along with scores of dedicated Aurora firefighters and police officers, work very hard behind the scenes to make sure tragedies are prevented. We work even harder to prepare ourselves and our schools should a serious incident occur. We also encourage school officials to impress upon their staffs the seriousness of the drills. First responders have learned that you play like you practice so it is crucial that school administration lead the charge in getting as close to perfect as possible.

I was very pleased to hear from my daughter that they had a drill at her school and had to run through it again because they weren’t quiet enough. In a real disaster, that school will be prepared thanks to a dedicated staff who understand the importance of training. In the police and fire professions we believe the more you sweat in training the less you will bleed in battle.