December Best of #SMEM: Stand-By-Task Force

Post by: Kim Stephens

The disaster events of 2011 demonstrated the power of social media to connect survivors to the outside world. This  one-minute video created by Twitter provides  a visual demonstration of the volume of content on their platform an hour before and an hour after the earthquake. As an aside, Twitter is  just one of many social networks used in Japan, Mixi and Facebook are actually more popular.

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, however,  also served as a reminder to  the emergency management community of the challenges we would face with regard to monitoring and analyzing the vast amount of information literally spewing  from these sources.  With 1000s of tweets per minute, there is too much information for a couple of individuals to process or even read, much less analyze. As I mentioned in another post, computer processing of all of this data is coming in the near future. Companies in the web-based content management business, such as PIER, are working to provide systems that not only help publish information to social networks, but filter social media user-generated content as well.  Since I have not seen a demonstration of the tool, I cannot speak to its effectiveness, but my guess is that this is a problem many entrepreneurs are working to solve.

Volunteers Lead the Way

Organizations, however, such as the all volunteer Stand By Task Force (SBTF)–founded in 2010, understand that computer processing will only provide part of the solution. The SBTF’s organizational structure can be described by the concept of “Bound Crowdsourcing.” Jeff Howe, defines crowdsourcing as outsourcing a task in the form of an open call, which can leverage the power of many “to accomplish feats that were once the responsibility of a specialized few.” Bound crowdsourcing, according to one of the founders of SBTF, Dr. Patrick Meier, still relies on an open call, however, participants must meet a certain criteria, including training, before they can contribute.

The SBTF currently has a volunteer team of over 700 geographically dispersed, highly skilled “crisismappers”. Crisismapping, according to their definition, involves four key components: information collection, visualization, analysis and response. These individuals sort data obtained for the most part through open sources, including social media, into categories; verify the content;  geo-locate where the information came from and place a symbol  on a visualization platform, such as Ushahidi; analyze the content and provide summary reports. They also can provide other highly technical expertise, as well as translation.   The services they offer depend, however, on the needs of the requestor. But in order to ask for their help you must meet their very specific activation criteria. Listed below are two of their 6:

  • In general, TF is activated only if the request is in compliance with the TF general principles: to provide dedicated live mapping support to organizations in the humanitarian, human rights, election monitoring and media space, with a focus on local organizations.
  • The TF will activate in two types of crisis: (i) a humanitarian emergency declared under the International Charter Space & Major Disaster, or (ii) a political situation that may lead to a major humanitarian disaster. The TF will in any case evaluate the activation on a case by case basis.

These skills have not gone unnoticed. This year the United Nations formally asked for their assistance during the crisis in Libya.  Watch the video below describing this experience.

Responding to Crisis Online from UNV on Vimeo.

This great blog post by Andrej Verity “The Unexpected Impact of the Libya Crisis Map and the STBF” provides a description of how the SBTF relationship with the UN OCHA evolved, an analysis of the deployment, as well as areas for improvement.

The SBTF is a  “best of” SMEM for 2011 because they are working to solve the very problems that make social media a daunting undertaking for the emergency management community. This example, however, should also make us rethink the possible. Do we need to wait around until expensive computer processing tools are available, or can we organize ourselves to use the resources we can find in our own community, or even the global community?

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One response to “December Best of #SMEM: Stand-By-Task Force

  1. Pingback: Year 2 is "In the History Books" - Social Media 4 Emergency Management

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