CLEMSON — Greg Mullen wants to ensure Clemson doesn’t become Clemson.
He wants to make sure Clemson doesn’t join the list of U.S. towns and cities known more for the mass violence committed within their lines than their unique community quirks. Sandy Hook. Parkland. El Paso. And on. And on.
That’s part of the reason Mullen, Clemson’s police chief and associate vice president for public safety, has teamed up with the university’s communications department to provide social media monitoring before, during and after all seven 2019 home football games, starting Thursday when the Tigers open the season against Georgia Tech.
“I think every police chief should be constantly thinking about these things,” said Mullen, the former Charleston police chief. “And if they’re not, they’re certainly not keeping up with current events around the country and the lessons learned from these tragic events.”
Mullen said Secret Service reporting from 2017 and 2018 indicates that mass casualty offenders had engaged in troubling communication, on social media or elsewhere, before committing violent acts.
So shortly after starting at Clemson last May, Mullen met with Andrew Pyle, an assistant professor in the communications department, and learned about the university’s Social Media Listening Center, an interdisciplinary laboratory that opened in early 2012 and uses social analytics software to monitor, measure and engage in social media conversations.
A partnership was formed. Pyle was named the university’s first Division of Public Safety Faculty Fellow. And a plan was hatched to increase safety on game days, when the quiet college town more resembles a thumping metropolis, with fans pouring into the 85,458-seat home of the Tigers’ football team.
From the incident command center, Pyle and his team will use Social Studio, a program from the company Salesforce, to perform social media searches, looking for keywords and scraping data from millions of data points.
“Searching for anything from someone who had a little too much to drink, and is causing a raucous, if you will, all the way to someone who’s expressed some kind of hazard or threat that police might want to respond to,” Pyle said.
The program had a test run during Clemson’s spring football game in April, during which Pyle’s team developed a more refined understanding of the system.
But it will operate for real starting Thursday. In addition, guests will be required to walk through metal detectors upon arriving at the stadium for the first time.
Inside the stadium, Mullen said, additional police, fire and emergency medical services personnel will be present, with orders to notify the incident command center if necessary.
Mullen noted that tragic incidents have occurred at all sorts of events and settings. There is no uniform location. But events with larger crowds are larger targets.
“Certainly you have a higher level of concern because of the exposure that that creates, and obviously with all the success that Clemson has had over the last few years with with its football program, it makes us think about the potential for some of this activity to occur,” Mullen said. “When you have these types of events that are large, they bring a lot of exposure. Have to think about things in a different way.”
Pyle is excited for the partnership, though the hope is the full power of the system won’t need to be used.
“In an ideal world,” he said. “This is something that is essentially like insurance. You want to pay for it and never need to use it.”
Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.