When Minutes Matter Most

Citizen Case Study: Tribeca Terror Attack, 10/31/17

Inside Citizen Headquarters in Lower Manhattan, there’s a team of people who obsess over minutes. Our job is to get information into the hands of users in as few of them as possible.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, October 31st, during the deadliest act of terror in New York City since 9/11, those minutes mattered. We’re breaking down our coverage of the attack to see just how much.

The suspect drove down the Hudson River bike path shortly after 3pm EST. By 3:08, the NYPD received multiple 9–1–1 calls related to the incident. This is where we start the Citizen clock and conduct a minute-by-minute review to answer these questions: Is there more we could have done to protect the public? And could we have done it faster?

Here are key updates reported in the app, beginning with the very first. Click here for the full transcript.

3:09:06pm: “Incident reported at West St & Chambers St.”

  • 570 people in a ¼-mile radius receive a push notification telling them something is happening along the West Side highway.

3:09:25pm: “An NYPD officer has requested immediate backup and multiple ambulances for an unknown reason.”

3:12:22pm: “An NYPD supervisor is confirming that one person is shot and multiple people are injured.”

3:14:05pm: “A police officer reports numerous victims on the roadway.”

3:14:51pm: The first Citizen user goes live from the scene of the attack 5 minutes after the incident is first reported.

  • 7,141 people in a 1-mile radius receive a push notification with a link to watch the situation unfold in real time.
  • Here is the video from those first moments after the attack:

3:29:04pm: “ESU officers advise that a car may have driven down the bike path on West Street and hit several pedestrians.”

3:29:41pm: “The NYPD’s K-9 Division and Bomb Squad are requested to investigate a vehicle involved in the incident.”

3:35:12pm: “ESU officers confirm that the shooting suspect has been taken into custody.”

3:37:23pm: The NYPD Bomb Squad is on scene and is removing all personnel from the area of West Street to Vesey Street in order to conduct a thorough explosive search.”

3:47:15pm: “All schools in Lower Manhattan have been placed on lockdown until further notice.”

4:41:09pm: “At least seven casualties have been confirmed as a result of the incident.”

5:25:14pm: “NYPD officials have updated the death count to eight.”

5:51:11pm: “The incident has been officially labeled as an act of terror.”


Citizen covered the incident for over two hours. We sent more than 70 updates to our users, sharing the most up to the minute information.

Here are some of the people those minutes mattered to most.

Abby Brody, Head of Lower Division, Avenues: The World School

“I am a principal of an elementary school in downtown New York. In my care every day is over 600 children. We dismiss our school at 3:15PM daily. At that time 600 students go in 600 different directions and it is our job to ensure their safety. At 3:10PM my husband got an email that said someone’s nanny saw some shooting. I immediately called down to our security team who had only heard one parent account who came from Tribeca that something was going on, but no details. The security called the precinct near us and no answers were given. It was then that I checked Citizen and there it was. Minute by minute information on the terrorist attack. I even googled the event and got nothing. Checked CNN, nothing. However, with the information from Citizen alone I had enough information to make some decisions to ensure the safety of our students. We held buses going downtown. We got our internal leadership response team notified and ready for a possible long night. We got our after-school team prepared to welcome additional students. Citizen allowed our school to protect our students and faculty.”

Citizen user Terrell ID

“Your app is very helpful and allowed me to get up to the minute information so I could inform my family about the dreadful situation unfolding yesterday. My nanny takes our daughter to that area almost every day, so I was able to inform her and tell her to get away and drop my daughter at my wife’s office. Thank you for the peace of mind.”

The video live streamed by our users went far and wide, reaching an even larger national audience.

CBS News

NBC News

During this review of our internal emergency response, we identified a few areas we will improve. Over 19,000 people watched this incident unfold live in the app. As the number of active users grew, our systems became overloaded. We’ve since invested heavy engineering resources to increase our stability during major incidents.

We also learned that during a crisis, we need the ability reach people both inside and outside of the Citizen app instantly. We have now built in the ability to stream live video from the app directly to our Facebook page.

We will continue to build stronger systems, improve our technology, and our speed. Here at Citizen, the minutes always matter.

Our thoughts and best wishes are with every person affected by this tragedy.

-The Citizen Team


If you’re a Citizen user with a story to share or would like to connect with us, please send an email to press@citizen.com.