Crowdsourcing Disaster Response
The use of technology during and after disasters is not a new phenomenon. In recent years, the Government has focused on public awareness campaigns via social media sites, mobile apps, and automated responses. In the time period immediately following a disaster or incident, effective response is critical to saving lives and restoring basic services. Non-profit organizations, the Government, and first responders are increasingly turning to forms of crowdsourcing to help acquire the most organized and timely data.
Crowdsourcing is the accumulation of information from large groups of people, who are often submitting information remotely via text message, social media sites, or mobile applications. When combined with a geospatial component, the data produces an interactive map that has proven to be particularly useful during disasters.
Programs like OpenStreetMap and organizations like Ushahidi are revolutionizing the way that first responders and officials organize and provide emergency services after disasters. A few open source mapping and crowdsourcing functions that can enable communication during emergencies include:
- Allowing users to submit locations, photos and descriptions of power outages, down trees, or damage
- Allowing volunteers to assess aerial imagery, rating the damage in particular areas to prioritize first responder action and focus
- Tracking the effects of an incident or disaster in real-time
FEMA used crowdsourcing during Hurricane Sandy, for example, and the benefits were enormous. Volunteer groups and organizations such as Google.org also allowed users to view sections of satellite imagery and rate the level of damage (check it out here). The Government and other non-profit organizations employ these tools effectively, and should expand upon them further to allow for the most timely and effective disaster response.
With an increasing focus on data verification (confirming data is accurate and hedging against false information), crowdsourcing and social media have the potential to save lives, money, and time during any type of catastrophic event.