The IAAI and CFITrainer.Net present these podcasts with a focus on issues relating to fire investigation. With expertise from around the world, the International Association of Arson Investigators produces these podcasts to bring more information and electronic media to fire investigators looking for training, education and general information about fire investigation. Topics include recent technologies, issues in the news, training opportunities, changes in laws and standards and any other topic that might be of interest to a fire investigator or industry professional affected by fire. Information is presented using a combination of original stories and interviews with scientists, leaders in fire investigation from the fire service and the law enforcement community.
Welcome to IAAI’s August 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast. This month’s podcast discusses social media as a fire investigation tool. We’ll talk about what social media is, how to access it, and what information of value it may provide to a fire investigator. Then, our two news stories touch on a potential problem with modular home glued ceilings and research from Underwriters Laboratories on the effects of ventilation on structure fires.
Let’s start with the emerging topic of social media. The term social media describes applications and web sites that allow users to interact with each other in a group environment and exchange user-generated content. Popular examples of social media web sites include Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Foursquare. These types of sites have become extremely popular and generate volumes of information that may potentially have investigative value. With us to discuss how the fire investigator can take advantage of this information during an investigation is Jane Bozarth. She’s an expert in social media and she’s the author of a new book called Social Media for Trainers. That’s an interesting point for those of you who are involved in instruction and training in fire investigation. Jane also has a background with the North Carolina Department of Justice. Jane, thanks for being with us.
JANE: Sure. Thanks for having me.
Q: So why is it important for fire investigators to understand social media?
JANE: I think it’s important for everybody who is on the internet to understand social media, but I think fire investigators, if they pay attention to the tools, you don’t need to develop expertise in everything, but have a sort of generic understanding of what the tools are, what kinds of things people tend to use them for, what kinds of people tend to be on what different sites I think is all useful in helping you probably gather evidence, gather data, get an understanding of, for instance, where a suspect may or may not have been, get an understanding of a trail of activity leading up to an event. I think it could be very useful, but you do need to have a basic grasp of the different tools and what you can and people do use them for.
Q: Could you briefly explain each of the following major social media destinations and how they work?
JANE: Well I’ll start with Facebook because that’s probably the most popular of the tools at the moment with 500 million users. You know, when you think about a Facebook, those of your listeners who are aware at all about web design may remember that even five or six years ago, if you wanted to have a web page that had pictures and links and maybe some video, maybe some text, that people could comment on you needed pretty much your own - you needed a web designer or you needed web design software, you needed a server, you needed to know how to load your material to that server or have someone do it for you. You know, Facebook has been a huge game changer in that just about every user, with very little help or none at all, can have their own highly customized, highly dynamic web page. You know, they have a really easy access site for posting their status, they can upload video and photos, they can post notes, they can do that kind of things, but think about Facebook under an umbrella. It’s an aggregator that incorporates just about every other tool we can talk about today.
Some things that are probably important to understand about Facebook - I think just about everybody, it’s safe to assume, has seen it. I don’t know that everybody on earth has a profile yet. But while users are allowed to have one profile, they can have multiple Facebook pages or groups for different activities or interests. For instance, I have a profile that’s Jane personal, but I also have pages for my business and for my books and I help manage another page for my high school class reunion group. So you can have lots of multiple pages. When you like a page - it’s just clicking a button at the top of the page - you, by default, are allowing updates from that page to post to your feed. So whenever I log in, if somebody’s put something on the high school site, it will pop up on my Facebook page and I can see what people are talking about. So it’s a good way to disseminate information. Organizations use it to broadcast PR information, StarKist tuna does a lot of promotions with their Facebook page. They give away coupons, they give away recipes, and it’s kind of fun. So it’s a great way to sort of push news in front of people that choose to see that news.
You know, in terms of investigations, when we’re talking about what you can and can’t do with Facebook, you know, your mother was right. I think you can tell a lot about people by the company they keep or by the interests or causes they support. For instance, there has been a lot of talk - well let me just say, you can click, like I said before, to like somebody’s comment or you can like a page or you can like a cause. There was a lot of chatter a while back about a Facebook page for people who were praying for President Obama to die, and you know I think lots of people in that instance clicked like who probably in the weeds would say they are not literally sitting around praying for the President to die, but saying that they liked it means it showed up on their Facebook pages, on their profiles, it showed up on the news feeds of their friends and it’s still there. I think sometimes people don’t always think through implications of something like that. You know, it’s the same with other causes or interests. There’s probably no harm in saying you like the waffle house, but there might be harm in other things that you say you like or don’t like. But, you know, on the internet everything is public and everything is forever. Even if you have this illusion of privacy, if you don’t want somebody to know where you went on vacation, then don’t send a postcard is kind of my moral of that.
What else? Facebook provides sweeping, highly granulated options for privacy, and my experience is that most users don’t understand or make effective use of that. For instance, you can group your friends into lists - like I can have lists for family or work extended relationships, work close relationships, my best friends, and then I can choose which of those lists sees which items I post. So, for instance, I might let everybody see a photo of my new book jacket, but I may only let people on my best friends list see vacation pictures. You can choose to limit your profile to the bare minimum or you can include items like your contact information. Again, I find that people are not making very good use of those options. They seem to have an expectation that Facebook should just know what you want and set everything for you. But really, there’s a lot of user control there.
As far as MySpace goes, it’s in - a lot of ways it’s like Facebook. The market data recently is indicating that it is increasingly losing ground to Facebook. People are moving from MySpace over to Facebook and just recently MySpace announced it was going to start syncing with Facebook. So they must be aware that that’s what’s happening. So it used to be MySpace kind of considered itself the competitor for Facebook and now it appears they’ve thrown in the towel and they’re going to sync the two accounts.
Facebook in general I think is appealing to a slightly older market. College students, but then beyond. You don’t see a lot of grandmothers on MySpace, for instance, but you see them all over the place on Facebook, but, you know, it’s still popular among users. When I talk about the percentage of users changing, I’m still talking about millions and millions of people. You know, there’s been kind of an exodus from MySpace to Facebook, but there are still a lot of users. It still tends to have kind of a music culture connotation, and like Facebook, you know, people can upload multimedia, they can post information, others can comment depending on the settings the user chooses to allow people to see and comment on what they’ve posted. So in a lot of ways it’s very similar to Facebook. I would say probably a little younger and a little more music oriented.
Twitter is my own favorite social media tool of choice. I have been able, in about 18 months I guess, really working at it, to cultivate a very strong responsive network of training and learning professionals, and some others, who are interested in the same things I am interested in. There really is no one in North Carolina who does what I do. There’s no one in state government anyway. And so I have been able to cultivate a really nice network of people who share my interests, who have the problems I have, who work on the projects I work on. So they give me a lot of validation, but they also give me viewpoints I hadn’t considered. I like the diversity of it. Mostly also I find that I have replaced Google with Twitter. When I Google something I might get a thousand links that may or may not be what I want, but I can ask Twitter - my Twitter community a question and I will immediately get an answer right away, and it’s usually an answer to the question, not just more resources to look at on the question.
Twitter is different from most of the other tools in that there is no implication of relationship. You choose to let people see what you’re posting. They can look at it or not. There isn’t this like friend relationship or approval relationship that you see with something like a Facebook or a MySpace. You know, people can choose to see you, you can choose to see them. They can choose to what we call re-tweet you, which is basically quoting you, just copying and pasting more or less what you just said, and then their followers would see that with your name attached to it. But unless you choose to cultivate some kind of relationship, there really - there isn’t one there that there might be - it’s sort of loose connections as opposed to tighter connections that you might see on Facebook.
But, you know, as far as we talk about Twitter in use of investigations, it’s interesting because this morning, a hour before you and I got on the phone, there was a report that Paris Hilton, who just the other day was arrested for cocaine possession you may recall, Paris Hilton was saying that the purse containing the cocaine was not hers. Well she tweeted a picture of it a month ago when she bought it. So, you know, you need to remember when you put it on the internet it’s there forever. So there’s a really excellent of evidence and something that nobody thought would be evidence. Now I don’t know who went back and caught it. I’m guessing since she was a celebrity it was a lot more likely to get - the thing got picked up on that she had tweeted. But she tweeted a picture the day she bought the thing and now she’s claiming it’s not hers. So that’s a really good example.
Q: How about blogs?
JANE: I’m a defender of blogs. For a long time people perceived blogs as nothing but online rants by people who needed to put their journals on the internet, and there is a lot of that, and I would think as an investigator that’s something to look at. If you’ve got somebody who’s clearly just obsessed, you’ve got a Unabomber thing going, you’ve got the guy who just recently held the hostages at the Discovery Channel, you know, if you’ve got years’ worth of blog posts with them ranting about the horrible government or something they perceive is wrong with society, I think that’s a good place to look for evidence. But, you know, a blog, like anything else, is a place that people - you can post your comments and others can respond. But I would think, yeah, if you’re doing an investigation I would look and see if somebody’s been publishing some online manifesto or there’s been lots of talk about a particular racial group they don’t like, a particular neighborhood they don’t like, you know, I would be looking at somebody’s online activity that way.
Q: Why Foursquare?
JANE: Foursquare works through the GPS chips in your phone, in your Smartphone. So your phone knows where you are and if you’re in a location where a vendor has registered, you can automatically just send out a message to your network that says I’m at Starbucks at the corner of 14th and Main. So you’re basically sending this message out either to your immediate group of friends who are on Foursquare with you or you can choose for things to go all over Twitter, all over Facebook, wherever you choose to put them, and now Facebook, just last week, introduced their own version of this called Places where you tell people where you are and they can tag you. I think that the implications for fire investigators should be obvious here. If people are telling you where they are every minute of the day, you could follow them all day long to where they are.
Q: Give us some examples of social media interactions and how they happen and how they might provide information of investigatory value.
JANE: If I were an investigator, I would want to look at social profiles like Facebook or MySpace, I’d want to see who is friends with who. I would be interested to see if people had joined maybe hate groups or if people were making lots of comments about somebody they didn’t like, somebody they intended to get back at, somebody that they wanted to do something about, somebody in the community - a landlord they’re angry with, a store owner that’s been a problem. You know, there’s a difference, and I think, I hope we all know the difference between being irritated with the cable repair people and really being obsessed with not being able to shut up about it. You know, I do think there’s a line there that you can cross. I wouldn’t overreact to every comment, every complaint with a retailer, but, you know, if it gets to be obsessive it might be something worth looking at. You know, just look and see what they’ve posted. The thing with the videos or the pictures, like the Paris Hilton example, people don’t give any thought to what they put online and they, as with Paris Hilton, have very short memories.
Q: How can investigators find out if there might be social media potentially related to a case?
JANE: I would say, first of all, to remember that if there are 500 million Facebook users, the odds are very good if you’re looking at suspects or a group of suspects, somebody’s on Facebook, somebody is involved in social networking at some level somewhere. So I would look and just do a general search around Facebook and Twitter just to see if people are there that are of interest to you. And I would, you know, remember that we’re in an age now where people’s interaction with the internet is very different. You can post your status updates from your phone. Every cell phone - kids have cell phones with video cameras on them. Flip Cameras, I saw at Christmastime this year, were less than $50 at the department stores. So people have a lot of access to technology that they want to use. So I would sort of look around and just see if I’ve got people in mind and see if they’re on Twitter or Facebook or MySpace and see what they’re doing.
But apart from that, you know, remember that the internet is an indexing tool. Never - never forget to Google people. You would be surprised at what will come up. Folks who forgot to protect a comment on Facebook, folks who forgot something they said on Twitter, you might be surprised what will pop up in a Google search just for the person’s name. Search for an event. You know, if a particular fire occurred on January 23rd at the grocery store on 9th Street, Google that and just see what comes up in the search. You know, you may see tweets about it, you may see YouTube related to it. You know, nowadays we have amateur journalists documenting everything. Every fire, every storm, every tornado that hits, and you just never know, there may be amateur video out there that shows people you hadn’t given any thought to. So I would look at what the internet has indexed, and I would pay a lot of attention to that number. The 500 million people on one site is pretty significant. I’d love to see who they are, who their friends are. Again, what they’re participating in, what their causes are, that kind of thing.
Q: There’s a lot of information out there. As you said, there’s 500 million users on Facebook alone. How do you narrow down that information to get what you really need?
JANE: Well there are several things. With Facebook your first thing to look for really would be people. I would look for social profiles, I would look to see who’s there. You can do a search for groups and pages and you will get varying quality of results with that. You know, you will not find a page that says grocery store burning February 23rd on Facebook. You might find Jane Bozarth on Facebook. You would find grocery store burning February 23rd on YouTube in a search, you might find it somewhere else, but you probably wouldn’t - but if you don’t have particular people in mind already, I think Facebook is going to have limited use to start with.
Twitter, on the other hand, you can do a search for topics, you could do a search for people discussing the same thing. There’s a phenomenon on Twitter called hash tags, a tool on Twitter that we use or an approach we use on Twitter, you enter a hash tag item from your keyboard and then follow that by key words, and you could try separate key words. For instance, if I’m looking to see who’s talking about e-learning, I would type hash tag e-learning and just see if other people were having a conversation about that today. The hash tag is a key on your keyboard, it’s what I guess we would call a pound sign on your phone. And people who are engaging in a common conversation around a topic usually will start using the hash tag so that anybody thinking about that can type it in. But you can do a search, there’s a search box on Twitter that you can just type in the name of a person, the name of an event and just see if anything comes up.
Now Twitter - my experience has been the feed will tell you it only goes back a few days. So you may have time limits. If you’re really focused, if you have access, you’ve got people working on a case with you, you might be able to hunt farther back or you might identify, for instance, that Jane Bozarth talked a lot about that fire, let’s go back and look at her for eternity. But, you know, Twitter, it tends to be stuff happening in the moment. If you’re not on it pretty quickly, I don’t know what you’ll find right away. You know, again, YouTube might be a good place.
And one thing I forgot to mention is that you can tag people and photos. That might be important to an investigator. For instance, I could take a video and I could say this is Jane, this is her husband Ken, this is the dog, and it will show up on the video or on a Facebook photo that somebody was somewhere at a particular time with other people. I would think that might be useful for evidence. You’re right though, it’s an enormous amount of information to try to filter through. I will say, in my experience, most people have a favorite thing they like. Like I said earlier, I really like Twitter. Generally that’s where you’re going to find me being more active. I like Facebook fine, but you might have better luck looking at me on Twitter. So again, if you have people in your sights, I’d pay attention to where they - whether they’re on MySpace a lot, whether they do Foursquare all the time and maybe focus down that way.
Thanks for being with us today, Jane. We appreciate your insight.
JANE: Sure. Thank you.
Now, we turn to the news. In the wake of two modular home fires in Massachusetts, a television news channel conducted an investigation questioning whether a large void space between the first and second floors and a flammable foam adhesive used to hold up the ceilings worked together to decrease the failure time of the ceiling, which accelerated fire spread when it prematurely failed. Soon after, the Massachusetts State Board of Building Regulations voted to change the building code to require screwed or nailed ceilings. Representatives from the modular home industry have maintained that the glue is just as safe as screws and nails.
Under a Firefighter Safety Research Grant from the Department of Homeland Security, Underwriters Laboratory and the Chicago Fire Department are conducting research on the effect of both natural ventilation and fire-suppression ventilation tactics on structure fires.
The tests will use two full-size houses, one 1500 square feet and one 3200 square feet, with controlled fires set inside UL’s Large Scale Fire Test and Training Facility. The research was spurred by anecdotal evidence that newer construction techniques have affected how fire spreads in a structure and thus may require the fire department to use different ventilation tactics to effectively fight the fire. The research is expected to conclude this month and a report is projected for release late this year.
Finally, we close with news from IAAI.
The IAAI office has moved. The new address is:
2111 Baldwin Ave., Suite 203, Crofton, Maryland 21114
The telephone numbers will remain the same:
TELE: 410-451-FIRE or if you like the numbers more - 410-451-3473
Further information will be available on our website: www.firearson.com.
That concludes this IAAI CFITrainer.Net podcast. We’ll see you again next month.
This program provides a primer on accreditation, certification, and certificates for fire investigation training.
A fire occurred on the night of Feb. 20, 2003, in The Station nightclub at 211 Cowesett Avenue, West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Arc Mapping, or Arc Fault Circuit Analysis, uses the electrical system to help reconstruct a scene, providing investigators with a means of determining the area of a fire’s origin.
This module introduces basic electrical concepts, including: terminology, atomic theory and electricity, Ohm’s Law, Joule’s Law, AC and DC power.
A fire occurred on the evening of June 18, 2007, in the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, SC that resulted in the deaths of nine fire fighters.
This module looks at the many ways fire investigators enter and grow in the profession through academia, the fire service, law enforcement, insurance, and engineering.
This module will present a description of the IAAI organization.
This module takes a closer look at four of the most commonly-reported accidental fire causes according to "NFPA Fact Sheet.
This program brings three highly experienced fire investigators and an attorney with experience as a prosecutor and civil litigator together for a round table discussion.
The program discusses the basics of digital photography for fire investigators as well as software and editing procedures for digital images intended as evidence.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in civil proceedings such as fire loss claims and product defect lawsuits.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in criminal proceedings.
This module covers the foundation of DNA evidence: defining, recognizing, collecting, and testing.
This program provides a practical overview of how to perform the baseline documentation tasks that occur at every scene.
This module will discuss the techniques and strategies for conducting a proper science-based fire scene investigation and effectively presenting an investigator’s findings in court as an expert witness.
This module presents critical electrical safety practices that every fire investigator should implement at every scene, every time.
This self-paced program examines the fire investigator's ethical duties beyond the fire scene.
As social media has emerged as a powerful force in interpersonal communications, fire investigators are being confronted with new questions...
Should you work for a private lab as a consultant if you are on an Arson Task Force? How about accepting discounts from the local hardware store as a “thanks” for a job well done on a fire they had last year?
This module takes investigators into the forensic laboratory and shows them what happens to the different types of fire scene evidence that are typically submitted for testing.
This module teaches the foundational knowledge of explosion dynamics, which is a necessary precursor to investigating an explosion scene.
This module addresses the foundations of fire chemistry and places it within the context of fire scene investigations.
The program is designed to introduce a new Palm/Pocket PC application called CFI Calculator to users and provide examples of how it can be used by fire investigators in the field.
This module examines these concepts to help all professionals tasked with determining fire origin and cause better understand fire flow dynamics so they can apply that knowledge to both to fire investigation and to fire attack.
This module provides a road map for fire officers to integrate and navigate their fire investigation duty with all their other responsibilities and describes where to obtain specific training in fire investigation.
The evaluation of hazards and the assessment of the relative risks associated with the investigation of fires and explosions are critical factors in the management of any investigation.
This module will describe the most commonly encountered fire protection systems.
This module presents best practices in preparing for and conducting the informational interview with witnesses in the fire investigation case.
This module provides instruction on the fundamentals of residential building construction with an eye toward how building construction affects fire development.
This module teaches first responders, including fire, police and EMS, how to make critical observations.
This program discusses how to access insurance information, understand insurance documents, ask key questions of witnesses, and apply the information learned.
This module offers a basic introduction about how some selected major appliances operate.
This program introduces the fire investigator to the issues related to the collection, handling and use of evidence related to a fire investigation.
This program takes you inside the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) archives of some of the most interesting and instructive test burns and fire model simulations they have ever conducted.
The program provides foundational background on the scope of the youth-set fire problem, the importance of rigorous fire investigation in addressing this problem, and the role of key agencies in the response to a youth-set fire.
This module provides a thorough understanding of the ways an investigation changes when a fire-related death occurs.
This self-paced program will help you understand what to expect at a fire where an LODD has occurred, what your role is, how to interact with others, and how to handle special circumstances at the scene.
This program will introduce the fire investigator to the basic methodologies use to investigate vehicle fires.
This module presents the role natural gas can play in fire ignition, fuel load, and spread; the elements of investigating a fire in a residence where natural gas is present; and the potential role the gas utility or the municipality can play an investigation.
This self-paced program covers fundamental legal aspects of investigating youth-set fires, including the juvenile justice system, legalities of interviews and interrogations, arson statutes, search and seizure, and confidentiality.
This program discusses the latest developments in expert testimony under the Daubert standard, including the MagneTek case recently decided in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
This module focuses on how to manage investigations that have “complicating” factors.
This module uses the Motive, Means, and Opportunity case study to demonstrate how responsibility is determined in an arson case.
This program covers the general anatomy of a motor vehicle and a description of typical components of the engine, electrical, ignition, and fuel systems.
This self-paced program is the second part of a two-part basic introduction to motor vehicle systems. This program describes the function and major components of the transmission, exhaust, brake, and accessory systems.
This module educates the investigator about NFPA 1033’s importance, its requirements, and how those requirements impact the fire investigator’s professional development.
This module reviews the major changes included in the documents including the use of color photos in NFPA 921 and additional material that supports the expanded required knowledge list in NFPA 1033 Section 1.3.7.
The program illustrates for the fire investigator, how non-traditional fire scene evidence can be helpful during an investigation.
This module introduces the postflashover topic, describes ventilation-controlled fire flow, illustrates how the damage left by a postflashover can be significantly different than if that fire was extinguished preflashover.
This module lays the groundwork for understanding marine fires by covering four basic concepts that the investigator must understand before investigating a marine fire.
In this module, you will learn more about how cancer develops, what occupational exposure risks to carcinogens exist at fire scenes, and how to better protect yourself against those exposures.
The use of the process of elimination in the determination of a fire cause is a topic that has generated significant discussion and controversy in the fire investigation profession.
This module teaches the basics of the electrical power generation, distribution, and transmission system.
This module presents the basics of natural gas and its uses and system components in a residence.
This module explains the principles of search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, as contained in the amendment and according to subsequent case law, and applies them to typical fire scene scenarios.
One of the legal proceedings that may require the fire investigator to testify is a deposition. Depositions are often related to civil proceedings, but more and more jurisdictions are using them in criminal cases.
Deposing attorneys employ a variety of tactics to learn about the expert witness giving testimony, to try to unsettle that witness to see how he/she handles such pressure, and to probe for weaknesses to exploit.
This module provides introductory information on the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard – 29 CFR 1910.120.
The program examines the importance of assessing the impact of ventilation on a fire.
This module demonstrates the investigative potential of information stored on electronic devices.
This module explains the relationship between NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921
The basics of the scientific method are deceptively simple: observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude.
This module addresses the foundations of thermometry, including the definition of temperature, the scales used to measure temperature and much more.
This program presents the results of flame experiments conducted with a candle.
This self-paced program explains to non-investigators the role of the fire investigator, what the fire investigator does, how the fire investigator is trained, what qualifications the fire investigator must meet.
This module will untangle the meanings of "undetermined," straighten out how to use the term correctly, talk about how not to use it, and describe how to properly report fires where "undetermined" is the cause or classification.
This module will advise fire investigators on how to approach the fact-finding procedures necessary and validate a hypothesis.
This module provides an overview on how structures can become vacant and eventually abandoned.
This self-paced program provides a basic framework for structuring the management of fire cases and fire investigators.
This module illustrates how wildland fires spread, explains how to interpret burn patterns unique to these types of fires.
This module presents the key elements of the initial origin and cause report and methods of clearly presenting findings in a professional manner.