Google Analytics

Thursday, March 31, 2011

OPSEC, Officer Safety, & Me

Sometimes people are amazed by the information I obtain and post on twitter and Facebook. Occasionally people approach me with concerns, usually along the lines of "you could put people in danger" or "that type of stuff isn't meant to be heard". Occasionally, I am also struck by the irony that at my day job, and jobs I've held in the past, I'm extremely OPSEC (Operational Security) minded, but in social media, I post so much information. I thought I'd take a second to explain my own personal guidelines and the "rules" I use.

Firstly, OPSEC is the responsibility of whatever organization controls the information. If I inadvertently released harmful operational information, the proper question isn't "why did I share that info?", it's "how did that info get out to begin with?". With that being said, safety of first responders is an enormous priority for me.

Most of my information comes directly from the police scanner. I am constantly monitoring state, local, & federal law enforcement, area fire departments, EMS, airports/aviation,  news media, etc. If you've never listened to a police scanner, trust me when I say that you would be amazed at the amount and content of the information that is available.

The next largest chunk of info comes from reliable sources on twitter and Facebook...I'm by no means the only person doing what I'm doing, and there are a lot of others doing really good work.

Very rarely, friends of mine who are police, firefighters, EMT's, or emergency management will provide me with some "off the record" information.

Once I hear something good, here are some of the general rules I follow:

1) I never post about police incidents until the police are on scene. This is so that the criminals can't monitor my twitter feed and know when to flee (as unlikely as this would be). On a practical side, the initial call is often inaccurate or wildly different then what is actually going on.

2) I don't post about active surveillance operations. In my daily note blog posts I note that it's happening, but I'll only include the agency and a vague location. I would never post target descriptions, street addresses, etc.

3) I don't post the names of victims or first responders, for privacy reasons. The only exception to this would be the chief's name at a fire, as in "5th alarm by order of chief Smith".

4) I don't post alerts about operations that would be considered anti-terrorism, homeland security, national security, etc. The best example of this would be the weekly LNG tanker escorts in and out of Boston harbor, and the massive security operation that surrounds it.

5) I don't post the addresses of SWAT team operations until it is public knowledge. Essentially, once someone else has posted it, then I will.

6) When all else fails, I try and employ as much common sense as I can. I would never knowingly post something that I thought would put someone in danger or hamper a law enforcement operation.

If you think of anything else, or have any questions, please post in the comments below.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Notes from 30 March

09:20 Inbound LNG BW Suez Boston escort operations on MSP SOPS-3.

10:24 Military Air activity on 228.9000MHz.

11:33 Minor fire behind a washer/dryer in the basement at 272 Front St, Manchester NH. MFD knocked down with hand extinguishers.

11:43 US ICE conducting surveillance in Boston on 163.7500 NAC 289.

12:26 US CBP conducting radio checks on 165.2375.

12:30 MEMA East conducting monthly roll call of all communities in the Seabrook Power Plant EPC.

March 30th Early Morning Incidents

01:41 Northampton, MA: Vehicle pursuit on I-91 Northbound. 2 suspects taken into custody in Sunderland on Claybrook Road.

02:23 Boston, MA: Small fire in the rear of 50x150 taxpayer at 1152 Blue Hill Ave.

02:59 Manchester, CT: 2 Alarm fire in a 2 story townhouse at 441 South Main St.

04:09 North Hampton, NH: 3 alarm fire in a barn at 134 Walnut Ave.

04:39 Boston, MA: Technical rescue/confined space rescue at the Charles/MGH MBTA station for a worker who fell 30 feet down a manhole. Extricated around 07:00 and transported to MGH with bilateral leg fractures.

Photo from Boston Fire Twitpic account.

06:03 Medford, MA: 2 alarm fire in a house at 44 Jerome St.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29th Early Morning Incidents

01:37 Portland, CT: Working fire in a shed on Ferry Lane with exposure to a house.

05:43 Warwick, RI: 2 alarm fire in a house on Grandview Dr.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Notes from 28 March

11:42 Voice traffic on 234.6000, which is a military air frequency. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite make out what they were saying.

13:50 Voice transmissions on US Secret Service "Tango". Agent was clearing an address in Boston, and proceeding to another.

Seabrook Power Plant "Unusual Event"

12:03 The Massachussets Emergency Management Agency came up on the MEMA East channel of the MSP trunked system and announced that they had an advisory for towns in the Seabrook Power Plant area. A roll call was conducted of all of the towns, and MEMA then advised that as of 11:43, the Seabrook Power Station was announcing an "unusual event". They also stated that it was a class or type "HU2".

12:20 Alex Jones tweeted that an "Unusual events are in process or have occurred which indicate a potential degradation of the level of safety of the plant." At the same time, Jane Martin posted on the AlertNewEngland facebook page "Looks like HU2 is "An Unusual Event was declared when: HU2: FIRE within the PROTECTED AREA was not extinguished in within 15 minutes of detection OR EXPLOSION within the PROTECTED AREA" and posted a reference link.

12:36 Unconfirmed reports began coming in that there was still an active fire at the plant.

12:38 Steven Bognar of WBZ tweeted that city of Seabrook Firefighters were not called to the fire, indicating that it was handled by the Plant's internal fire department.

12:55 John Larochelle tweeted that there was a "reported fire in elevator transformer inside complex. No explosion. Situation under control at this time."

13:07 MEMA came back on the radio and announced that the "unusual event" had been terminated at 12:43.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Notes from 25 March

15:25: MSP conducting mobile surveillance of a target in the Jamaica Plain area of Boston on SOPS-1.

16:02 LNG ship GDF Suez Neptune outbound escort on MSP SOPS-2

Upgrading Uniden Firmware

In an earlier posting about unit IDs, I mentioned that you needed the latest version of the scanner firmware in order to take advantage of that feature. Here's the applicable websites with instructions for updating your firmware and enabling unit IDs:

BCD396XT: Firmware Upgrade

BC346XT: Firmware Upgrade

BCT15X: Firmware Upgrade

Add the unit IDs to your scanner the same way you would a new Talkgroup (to make the "i", press the decimal key).

To view unit IDs on a P25 system, program it in as P25 single frequency trunk.

Good Luck!

Unit IDs

If you have a newer Uniden scanner, like the BC346XT or the BCD396XT and have upgraded to the latest firmware, you can enable the scanner to show Unit IDs on trunked and P25 systems. Here's what that means:

Trunked systems are essentially computer controlled, and every time a user keys their radio, information is transmitted throughout the system, including an ID associated with that specific radio. Newer scanners can decode that information and display it. Knowing what radio is being used can be amazingly helpful while scanning. A few of the systems that you can see this on in the Boston area include the Massachusetts State Police, Cambridge PD/FD, and MassPort.

All of the marked and semi-marked MSP cruisers have an ID number on the license plate, and on the fender of the marked cruisers. If you're listening to them on the scanner, this is the "call sign" that they are using, for example "2133 to Station A" would be the trooper operating this car:

For troops A, C, D and H (and maybe B), this number is also used as the ID (prefaced by a "5") for the radio installed in the car itself. So, while I'm hearing that transmission, my scanner is also displaying UID:i52133. So even if I didn't hear the beginning of the transmission, I can still see that and know which unit is calling. Each trooper also has an ID number, which is separate from his cruiser number. Sometimes you'll hear them use their ID number on the radio when they are calling in to book a report, and they always give it at roll call. These numbers are used as the ID (prefaced by a "4") for the portable radio (the "walkie talkie" that the trooper carries on his belt. If the trooper above, whose ID is 2588, gets out of his car and uses his portable, the display on my scanner shows UID:i42588. Since I don't want to be looking up 2588 every time, I can program that ID into the scanner so it displays something simpler, like "Cruiser 2133".

E Troop (Mass Pike) cruiser numbers are 2 or 3 digits followed by an "E", for example, 120E. The ID numbers for the radios installed in the cruisers all start with a 3, and do not correlate to the cruiser number. For example, 120E is i35946. The portable radios follow the same convention the other troops use, though, so 120E is operated by trooper ID 1670, with portable radio ID i41670.

F Troop (Logan Airport) very rarely operates on the MSP trunked system, and are actually dispatched on the Massport system.

It can take a lot of listening to put together a thorough list of unit IDs for a single system. Besides the multiple radios used by each officer, you have the radios at the barracks, on air wing units, marine units, DCR Rangers, MEMA, etc. It can be very rewarding, though, especially if you like to know a little more detail about what is going on. 

If this is the sort of thing that you think might interest you, the Uniden BC346XT and BCT15X are good units that are priced towards the lower end of the spectrum. If you pick up one of these scanners, or if you have had one and just need help programming it, let me know and I'll gladly put together a programming file for you.

As always, post questions, comments, and concerns and I'll get back to you.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Notes from 24 March

10:37 Open mike on US Secret Service "Tango" 164.6500, no NAC.

10:50 Team 1 calling "plant" on MSP SOPS-1 (TG33360), reporting "entry made, no one home".

11:57 Unit calling "Central" for a radio check on FBI A-5 167.4375 NAC 167. Both sides operating in the clear.

13:03 MSP F Troop (Logan Airport) dispatched to meet with TSA Behavior Detection Officers for a couple suspicious people near one of the baggage claim areas. Warrant check conducted with negative results. Parties were advised that they can not hang out at the airport anymore and ordered to leave.

13:35 LNG Tanker escort operations on MSP SOPS-6 (TG 33906)

Notes from 23 March

10:26: US Immigration & Customs Enforcement conducting mobile surveillance on 163.7500 P25 NAC 289. Multiple units tailing a vehicle on I-495.

12:58: Everett PD unmarked cruiser attempted to stop a stolen vehicle. Vehicle fled, EPD pursued onto I-93 where MSP Troop A joined in. EPD was communicating on BAPERN 3 to coordinate. Suspect was successfully taken into custody.

13:50: Customs & Border Patrol active on channel "CBP Net 01" on 165.2375 P25, no NAC, conducting surveillance in Boston.

18:20: Unknown P25 user on 172.0750.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Commonly used abbreviations

Due to the 140 character limitation on twitter, I'm sometimes forced to use abbreviations in order to get the necessary information out there. Here's a quick guide to the most common ones:

CMD: "Command", the guy running the show
Hazmat: "Hazardous materials"
K9: Police dog
k/d: "knocked down", refers to the condition of the fire
LSO: "Lines stretched & operating", the number of hoses the FD has putting water on the fire.
MSP: Massachusetts State Police
MVA: Motor vehicle accident
OIC: Officer In Charge
u/c: "under control"
u/d: used to signify an update, means there is more information in a previous tweet.

If I think of anything else, I'll add it to the list.

Notes from 22 March

LNG Tanker operations on Mass State Police SOPS-2. Escort secured at 0942.

Customs & Border Patrol activity on 165.2375 P25, no NAC received. Massachusetts 128 calling Sector with ending mileage.
Active again at around 1245, transporting a prisoner from the O'Neill building in Boston to the DRO in Burlington, MA, which sounds like an ICE mission.

Mass State Police Air 4 on patrol out of Plymouth Airport at 1209.

Picked up DHART 2 on Boston Skyways at 1230, sounded like they were headed in to Mass General.

US Immigration & Customs Enforcement was active at Boston Logan on 170.7750 with a NAC of 391. This frequency is active on a daily basis and is unencrypted. The traffic is always of a routine, administrative nature (i.e. "Call the office").

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Man Bites Dog

This morning I tweeted a story about a man being run over by a trailer, which it turns out, happened to contain a wood chipper. About two hours later, news services were reporting that the man had died. Here are a sampling of the headlines that were posted:

Hartford Courant: Man Dead After Wood Chipper Accident In Old Lyme

WTNH: Man killed in wood chipper accident in Old Lyme

And my favorite so far,

NBC Connecticut: A man is killed by a wood chipper in Old Lyme.

If you read those headlines and immediately thought of some sort of horrible scene where a man was turned to mulch, well, you weren't the only one. Comments on twitter ranged from "Whoa" to "what a tough way to die" to "Is there a Fargo in Connecticut?"

Of course the headline was intentionally written in this way, in order to evoke a Fargo-like imagery and entice you to click through to read the story. At least on twitter, though, it appeared people were reacting solely to the headline, and not reading the details at all. I wonder if they would be disappointed to learn that the man was killed when one of his employees accidentally struck him with a trailer they were backing up? After all, it's not nearly as exciting as their mental version.

If you have good examples of similar ambiguous headlines, please leave them in the comments below.

Oh, and if you haven't seen Fargo, check it out.

Squelch Tones, Simplified

Did you know that besides just the voice you hear, many radio frequencies carry additional information that you can't even hear? The most common example of that is a squelch tone, more officially known as CTCSS, CDCSS, DPL or DCS. I'm not going to get into the technical details of how these work, but I'll give a real world example of how this affects you when you're scanning.

One of the more active Fire Buff radio networks in Eastern Massachusetts is Fire Radio Systems, which operates on 461.4000. If you have a scanner that doesn't support CTCSS codes and you program in that frequency, you may also hear one of the other area organizations that share that same frequency, such as Bass Pro Shops in Foxboro, the New England Science Center in Worcester, or the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.

None of these groups want to hear the others' radio traffic, so each group's radios are programmed with a different squelch code. In the case of FRS, the radios are programmed with a code of 136.5. The same code is sent along with each transmission, and any transmissions that don't have that code won't be heard.

Most newer scanners also support these codes. In addition to screening out unwanted traffic when programmed in correctly, if left unprogrammed, they will also display the code that is being used, which can help you identify unknown frequencies or users. If your scanner doesn't support this, it's probably time for an upgrade. I use the Uniden BC346XT and the Uniden BCD396XT. The GRE PSR-310 is a popular choice, as well.

Post any questions in the comments below and I'll try and answer them as best as I can.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Logan Airport

Listening to MSP F Troop, which patrols Logan Airport, and dispatch just advised everyone involved in the VIP detail to switch over to the encrypted channel. That's probably the most interesting thing I've heard all morning (It's been slow). It makes me curious about who the VIP is, though!

Edit: Now (12:47) they are shutting down the south side perimeter road as part of the escort.

Edit: (12:52) Several twitter users have clued me in that the VIP is, in fact, the Veep, Joe Biden.

Edit: Now (13:42) they are closing down taxiways per US Secret Service request.

Stolen vehicle in Arlington

Mass State Police just put out a BOLO (Be On the LookOut) for a vehicle that was just stolen from the Stop & Shop parking lot off of Mass Ave. The suspect was described as "wearing a heavy black coat and carrying a large black bag" and reportedly "just got out of one car and entered the stolen vehicle and drove off". No direction of flight was given.

This sounds a little suspicious to me. First, the description is incomplete. It is not uncommon for eyewitness descriptions to be conflicting or even wrong, but in this case, the complainant provides a level of detail about the suspect's coat and bag, but not the more basic facts such as race or an estimated age. Also, if you were watching someone drive off in your car, how did you not know which way they went?

The situation is strange, too. It's very rare that one person gets out of a car and drives off in another. He already has one car, so what does he gain from taking another? In this case, he traded up to a 2004 Mercury. Even if he left a stolen car behind, he's still leaving behind a wealth of evidence. Criminals don't always make smart moves, but this seems above and beyond dumb. If he was worried about there being too much "heat" on the car he was in, it doesn't make much sense to steal another car in a very public place, and especially not in view of the owner.

Everything above is based on transmissions I heard on the MSP side of things. It's possible that APD has more information that didn't get relayed to the troopahs that would make this more sensible.