Catch ‘em all, stay safe

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Magen M. Reeves
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs

Maintaining a work-life balance is critical in ensuring Airmen are able to perform at their peak when mission dictates. Over the years, advances in social media and technology have given Airmen numerous options for relaxation and separation from work-stress.

Pokemon Go is no exception.

Participating in a social gaming phenomenon can be an efficient way for Airmen to build relationships with other individuals as well as improve morale while off duty.

“The core principle of Pokemon Go is awesome,” said Capt. John Kepple, 341st Security Forces Squadron officer in charge of baseside operations. “We are all about people getting out and about outdoors and participating in physical fitness.”

However, Airmen are cautioned to play it safe.

“People should be aware that if they are acting strange and doing what can be viewed as ‘unusual activities’ our defenders are trained to look for signs like that and to act accordingly,” said Kepple.

According to a bulletin published by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, users play the game through augmented reality where characters appear on an individual’s smartphone as if they are in real world. The game utilizes GPS to place Pokemon in real world locations and requires users to physically move to “catch” Pokemon.

Even though it is not the intention, several instances have occurred indicating risks not only for service members, but civilians as well.

“(Airmen have to remember) their number one responsibility is information protection,” said Michael Ward, 341st Missile Wing chief of information protection. “Non-classified, sensitive information and restricted areas should also be protected.”

To avoid being questioned by members of authority or law enforcement, individuals should exercise caution when playing the game in certain areas.

“We ask that people pay attention to their surroundings when taking photos around restricted areas,” said Kepple.

Safety has also become a concern.

“Traffic safety is a huge consideration because people are stopping in the middle of the road,” said Kepple. “Driving while using phones can lead to distractions. (Playing games) or receiving game notifications is no different than texting or talking. Operating a cell phone while driving is unauthorized according to installation traffic codes.”

Texting and hand held phones are also banned within Great Falls.

Sometimes, players can get caught up in the gaming experience and forget simple safety measures.

The game has caused an increase in suspicious person calls and enabling criminals to take advantage of the situation.

Because the game is also a social experience, individuals must travel to certain locations to catch Pokemon where others may or may not be gathered. This can be seen as a red flag for some who are not used to seeing groups of people gathered in “odd” locations.

Criminals have also found a way to capitalize on the vulnerability of game players by utilizing the game’s location-specific technologies and waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting people playing the game.

“It’s apparently sweeping the nation,” said Ward. “People wait for (players) to run out of the house and are robbing them.”

Acts of terrorism are also a concern. Players are cautioned to be vigilant when gathering to catch Pokemon. Large groups of unsuspecting people make for easy targets for terrorists.

“There are reports across the nation of (criminals) using (the game) to ambush people,” said Kepple. “We don’t see that as problem here in Great Falls because there isn’t a high rate of violent crime.”

However, Kepple advises to remain vigilant.

Airmen are advised to understand how critical self-awareness and protection can be while playing in the virtual reality arena.