Post by: Kim Stephens
Gloria Mark and Bryan Semaan in their 2008 study “Resilience in Collaboration: Technology as a Resource for New Patterns of Action” found that in communities that have been disrupted (they focused on war zones) “technology played a major role in providing people with alternate resources to reconstruct, modify, and develop new routines, or patterns of action for work and socializing.” Prophetically, they stated in their conclusion that they envision a system where people could simply give status updates regarding their well-being after a crisis. Furthermore, they predicted crisismapping: “our data also point to the potential of utilizing collective intelligence in providing online information about the disrupted area. For example, people could collectively update a satellite map online with up-to-the minute information on local disruptions in their area.”
As Mark and Semaan indicated, resilience is defined as the ability to cope with an unexpected situation and “bounce back.” But… ”new ways of using resources to be resilient [has] led to the emergence of new structures with consequences for work and social lives.” They provide several examples, for instance, in Iraq a University student video taped classes for friends who could not travel to campus after curfew: that practice became adopted and formalized by the institution.
Fast forward four years and we clearly see the major role technology plays in fostering collective resilience. These “new structures” regarding how people communicate and collaborate have penetrated society–war zone or not. After a disaster, information communication technologies that require very little, if any, actual technical skill have leveled the playing field regarding who can provide “information aid,” and have also allowed people to organize themselves in ways previously unimagined. I’m not quite sure we in the emergency management community have fully grasped this impact nor have we adapted or adjusted our systems to take this into account .
For me, FEMA‘s use of the tool “Aid Matrix” provides an example of the disconnect. AidMatrix is designed to match volunteers and donations with organizations who distribute those items. This software solution seems to be designed for mostly large corporate contributions, although citizens can contribute monetary donations to the list of “leading organizations in humanitarian relief”. Regarding non-monetary donations, they state:
Please keep in mind that leading relief organizations typically seek sizable, bulk donations only when they meet the service delivery needs of a particular relief operation.
AidMatrix also allows for volunteers to match their skills to organizations working in the impacted area… in theory. The portal, however, isn’t spun up for every event and I have heard complaints that even when it is used, it isn’t stood up quickly enough. People state that they find out about the tool around the time the event is over, see pic of the tweets from two people from the #SMEM (social media and emergency management) twitter community. Other concerns focus on the low rate of adoption and use. To my knowledge the portal is rarely, if ever used during events that do not meet the threshold for a disaster declaration.
The recent April 16th tornado in Oklahoma also provides an illustration: searching the portal by state, the potential donor or volunteer receives the following message: “The Volunteer Portal is not currently active for Oklahoma“. In contrast, the Woodward Tornado Info (WTI) Facebook page most certainly is active, with over 2000 fans. The page is administered by Amber Wolanski, who also stood up the Joplin Tornado Information page. WTI was ready to go within hours of the event, no MOU or paperwork required. The community has utilized the collaborative space to post about needs of those impacted and even to broadcast information about a missing teen (unrelated to the tornado).
This type of Facebook page should no longer be news: this is the new normal. When there is a crisis people will stand up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to help match those with the desire to help with those in need. In the words of the scholars mentioned above, people are adapting existing technology to meet the pressing needs of the event. Those of us in emergency management should embrace this newfound resilience, but how? There are admitted limitations to matching needs to resources through a Facebook page. As a follow-up post I’m going to discuss one community-based, bottom-up donations management solution that was also born out of a tornado event. Stay tuned.