Prototyping Terror: Mumbai in NY

Two hours before our company holiday party, several of us were contemplating mass murder in Manhattan.

Not exactly Christmas cheer. But some good certainly came of it.


Several top thinkers and decision-makers reviewed the horrible events in Mumbai last month and considered how our news department would respond to a low-tech, coordinated attack on multiple locations in New York.

Here are some of our points of discussion, which could apply to any organization, journalistic or otherwise:

The Visioning Thing. We didn't do a full-scale drill, we simply took time to really visualize how things might happen. It was pretty powerful.

First we tried to think like terrorists and, as a group, picked three targets -- a transportation hub, a hotel and a shopping center. No sense naming them here; suffice it to say, we all knew each of them well and could picture the devastation and chaos.

Then we carefully imagined where each of our key people would be on a weeknight at 9:30, when Mumbai's night of hell began. Who lives where? Who's still at work? Who could get in fastest? What route would they take? Where would the first available reporters go? How would they stay safe? Think.

Our Civic Duty. We're journalists. It's second nature to pursue the facts and try to present them quickly, accurately in context. But as a broadcaster in a city under siege, our public service mission takes on new qualities, and raises questions. What do we do for people still in or near danger? Can we be better oriented to provide public warnings, safety and health info, comfort, maps, conversation, rumor control ... help? The conversation has started to adjust our operating Point of View, and could make a huge difference in how we serve our city (lowercase c) in those first few hours.

Information Overload. Phone calls, reporters, sources, Tweets, network audio, news wires, emails, web comments, TVs ... we easily came up with more than 20 distinct streams of audio, text, and visual information key to covering the story. In an era when all of this information is available to everyone on our staff, are we ready to monitor them all in a sophisticated, organized way? (Ah, no.)

Online, Under Pressure. Our methods for broadcasting have changed since 9/11 and The Northeast Blackout. We now use web alerts, social media, maps, and other tools to convey information. But when the adrenaline pumps, and minutes matter, we have to be ready to take advantage of all of these channels while maintaining our standards of accuracy and context.

Bias Toward Action. It's been 7 days since this meeting, and we're far better prepared than we were 8 days ago. What we've done, and are doing, is the subject of my next post, Break Glass Now.

[Photo by Andy Eakin]