While reading Chris Moerdyk’s article in the last edition of The Media Online, Boston bombings prove the value of social media, I started thinking along the same lines, but instead of social media, my cogitations turned towards the significant role that digital billboards played in the Boston Marathon bombings and the aftermath.
The Boston bombing manhunt unfolds on digital billboards, was explained in Christopher Hall’s article for Digital Signage Today. The Massachusetts State Police and the FBI released photos last Thursday evening of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings and within the hour of the first images’ release, digital billboards had photographs of the suspects up all around Boston and its highways. Later in the evening, when the university policeman was shot dead, allegedly by the suspects and when one of the suspects was killed in the gunfight with the police, after the car hi-jacking and chase, digital billboards were an active component in keeping the public informed.
By Friday morning, Boston went into a lockdown, with one of the suspects still on the loose, residents were told to stay home by the state’s governor. This message to stay indoors was communicated to those still outdoors, by digital billboards around the city. The second suspect was taken into police custody on Friday night after a call from a Boston citizen. He was found hiding in a boat in a backyard and after shots were exchanged, the suspect was apprehended. He is in hospital in a critical condition.
The coverage of events had begun the day before the Boston Marathon, according to Hall in his preceding article Digital billboards respond to Boston Marathon bombing, for Digital Signage Today. Digital billboards along the route of the Boston Marathon and in the surrounds were being used, prior to the event, to promote it and to send out good luck wishes to the runners on the day. After the explosions, the same digital billboards played a vital role in the community. Motorists were warned to stay away from Copley Square, the site of the explosions. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency was given the use of the billboards to display emergency messages, with contact details.
On the day following the bombings, billboards were used to alert Bostonians of schedule changes to other events that had been planned and perhaps more significantly, in Boston and across the rest of the country, digital billboards were used to communicate breaking news and to post messages of support, condolences and hope to the victims, their families and the city as a whole.
“The Out of Home (OOH) industry united across the US, to ensure that the nation was kept up-to-date and in touch with the flow of information while they were commuting, out-of-doors and not necessarily able to access other media. Strategic geographical placement of digital billboard sites can be of immeasurable value in the management of a crisis such as this, by police and the relevant emergency service authorities. Congratulations are due to the US outdoor industry on the assistance they gave to the authorities in helping to find the suspects and on the responsible and thoughtful way in which they responded to this tragedy,” says Barry Sayer, Executive Chairman of Continental Outdoor Media.
I wonder if the legislators who allocate billboard sites in South Africa realise the importance of strategically placed digital outdoor media in serving the community in a crisis such as this? Digital posters and billboards can change their displays instantly, to communicate vital information, such as evacuation procedures or show images of crime suspects, to the community, in the case of a disaster.
Continental Outdoor Media are perfectly placed and willing to react with speed and efficiency to support the community should an emergency necessitate immediate action. The advertising that is displayed on their digital poster sites in Gautrain stations, airports, shopping malls and clinics is controlled at their head office through a Wi-Fi connection. The displays can be instantly changed to provide breaking news updates, messages from emergency services and words of hope and support, in the thick of a disaster.
Technological advances, such as these, in the OOH space, have remarkable capabilities to create a sense of order in the chaos that surrounds a crisis and to reassure people on the streets that the situation is under control. Perhaps this will spark some debate between the OOH industry and officials, about how this technology can be mutually beneficial.
Digital signage is not only highly adaptable, but is specifically positioned to gain maximum reach. Its efficacy can perhaps only come to light in the event of something as devastating as the Boston Marathon bombings, where billboards transitioned from creating a sense of unity during a sporting event, to creating a sense of unity after a tragedy, to assisting in keeping citizens out of harm’s way and serving the justice system.
Richard Lebovitz’s article for Digital Signage Connection, Digital Billboards Work Overtime During Boston Terrorist Crisis gives more information about this and the service level agreements between outdoor media companies and state authorities.
IMAGES: Digital Signage Today