Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Thought on the Boston Panic

Could Tuesday's panic in Boston have been avoided? That is a question that must be asked. A promotional campaign for the Cartoon Channel's adult program Aquateen Hungerforce, which covered ten cities in the United States, ran afoul in Boston when local law enforcement allegedly mistook the mini-billboards for "suspicious packages." The mini-billboards, which were actually LED displays depicting different characters, or "Moonites," from the series, were placed on bridges and near roadways. As a result of the panic, several roadways and a major waterway were closed while the Boston Police, the ATF, and the FBI dealt with the "potential threat." Two men were arrested and charged with perpetrating a hoax and obstruction.
The timeline of the panic began when a package was found in the administrative offices of the University Hospital, at Boston University. The package, which had nothing to do with the promotional campaign, was obviously a fake bomb, containing batteries wrapped in tape. When news of this came out, people driving on the roads apparently started calling in reports of suspicious packages on bridges and overpasses. The Boston Police responded rapidly and efficiently, discovering ten of these "fake bombs," investigating them and disposing of them.
Boston is sensitive to terrorist threats, because it was from Boston's Logan Airport that the airliners used in the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were high jacked. Vigilance is important these days, and the vigilance of the Boston Police and the citizens of that city is to be commended. However, several questions arise, such as why didn't the police recognize the mini-billboards for what they were, why didn't the city know about the promotion, and how did the promotional campaign get associated with the University Hospital bomb threat?
Nine other cities were targeted for the advertising campaign, and those cities seemed to be aware of it. If anybody in those cities had reported suspicious packages, they were likely reassured that it was just a promotional campaign. Only Boston took it as a bomb hoax.
If it was a legitimate advertising campaign, the city should have known about it. Most cities require permission to post bills on “public” (government) properties. If the advertising company did not get permission or pay applicable fees, then the company is at fault.
It is easy, however, to suspect that the City of Boston did know about it, and once the panic got out of control, and once somebody realized what the “devices” where, the City was reluctant to embarrass itself, and went ahead with the hoax charges. This will not likely stand up in court, as hoax was not the intent, but the perception of the city and police officials. If Boston can prove in civil court that the advertising company did not have permission to post the devices, there is an easy $750,000 plus punitive damages for the city in civil court. All in all, vigilance aside, the outcome of the situation is an embarrassment Boston will not admit to.

Click here if you can't see the video.

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