Tag Archives: University of Colorado at Boulder

Four New Sources on Social Media added to Bibliography

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Post by: Kim Stephens

I wanted to highlight the 4 new sources I added to the bibliography:

  1. Lesperance, AM et.al “Social Networking for Emergency Management and Public Safety.”  August 2010. Prepared for Department of Energy by Battelle. Accessed Sept. 2010. <http://nwrtc.pnl.gov/docs/social.networking.pdf>.

This report was prepared for the Interagency Biological Restoration Demonstration Program and is the summary of the workshop titled “Social Networking for Emergency Management and Public Safety” held this past March in Seattle, Washington. The workshop addressed current uses of social media as well as obstacles agencies might encounter in pursuing this new form of communications (including internal policy constraints). Best practices were highlighted and  potential future uses were discussed.

The workshop led to several conclusions:

 Agencies have to trust the public on some level to manage emergencies. All emergencies are local, and public.

 More needs to be studied in regards to how crowd sourcing leads to robust decisions. Experts in general tend to struggle with the concept that people are turning more and more online to a fan base to help guide their decisions.

 Deferring the release of information is no longer an option. Social media tools can be used; they are being used and used well in the emergency management community. Agencies must consider the ramifications (staffing, resources, control of information) when joining the social media conversation.

 Public demand and competition, even among government agencies, will drive the data. One city cannot afford to remain silent when others are openly sharing.

 People want information, and they expect it immediately. The challenge will be balancing resources and accuracy against the need to produce instant information.

 Government agencies may have to change policies, practices, and skill sets to effectively use social media. They will need to use new terms like branding and dialogue. They may also need to partner more broadly.

2.  Yasin, Rutrell. “5 ways to use social media for better emergency response.” Government Computer News. 2 Sept. 2010. Accessed Sept. 2010. <http://gcn.com/articles/2010/09/06/social-media-emergency-management.aspx>.

Another useful article, which can be found on the Government Computer News blog. In sum, the 5 ways social media can be used during an emergency response:

  • Reach a wider audience.
  • Send and receive emergency alerts.
  • Monitor the conversation.
  • Integrate data sources for situational awareness.
  • Collaborate with responders.

3. “Project EPIC: Empowering the Public with Information in Crisis.” University of Colorado, Boulder and University of California, Irvine. 2010. Accessed September 2010. <http://epic.cs.colorado.edu/>.

I mentioned Project Epic in my post on Sept. 10 in connection with  their work during the Colorado Wildfires.  The EPIC project, led by Dr. Leysia Palen, is supported by a grant from the US National Science Foundation and is one of the few empirically-based projects related to social media, or what they call “computer mediated communication.”

4. Palen, Leysia, et. al. “A Vision for Technology-Mediated Support for Public Participation & Assistance in Mass Emergencies & Disasters.” British Informatics Society Ltd., Proceedings of ACM-BCS Visions of Computer Science. 2010. Accessed Sept. 2010. < http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~palen/computingvisionspaper.pdf>.

This is a formal paper. The abstract:

We present a vision of the future of emergency management that better supports inclusion of activities and information from members of the public during disasters and mass emergency events. Such a vision relies on integration of multiple subfields of computer science, and a commitment to an understanding of the domain of application. It supports the hopes of a grid/cyberinfrastructure-enabled future that makes use of social software. However, in contrast to how emergency management is often understood, it aims to push beyond the idea of monitoring on-line activity, and instead focuses on an understudied but critical aspect of mass emergency response—the needs and roles of members of the public. By viewing the citizenry as a powerful, self-organizing, and collectively intelligent force, information and communication technology can play a transformational role in crisis. Critical topics for research and development include an understanding of the quantity and quality of information (and its continuous change) produced through computer-mediated communication during emergencies; mechanisms for ensuring trustworthiness and security of information; mechanisms for aligning informal and formal sources of information; and new applications of information extraction techniques.


Social Media are being used in response to Colorado Wildfires

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Colorado wildfires are quickly becoming a lesson in how social media are used during a crises: see the article “Evacuees use social media to keep up on Boulder wildfire disaster developments” in the Denver Post. The blog “All Hazards” is also a good source of information on social media as related to this event. The blog was created by David Wild, an Indiana University Informatics Professor, and includes a great list of categorized hyperlinks to various resources related to the fire.

With regard to citizens’ desire to share and find information, the Denver Post article lists the numerous ways new media are being utilized:

In the Fourmile Canyon fire, people have distributed everything from photos to phone numbers for volunteer organizationsGoogle maps with contributions from dozens of people showing evacuation zones and structure damage, to 140-character Twitter messages offering prayers for victims. The city of Boulder is passing along updates to 900 people on its Facebook page.

The article also cites how people are turning to social media in order to get more local information that official sources aren’t able to provide:

We’re frustrated that there’s so little information [from official sources] about the specific areas and about what’s happening,” Hamilton, a planetary geologist, said from a hotel room in Boulder. “I’ve connected with a few people on Twitter who live in my immediate area whom I didn’t know before. I can say, ‘This is what I know. What do you know? How’s your house?’ It’s definitely been good for that.”

Some public officials, however,  are using social media, sometimes by default. The Blog, Online Social Media recounts that when Boulder Sheriff’s emergency alert system (reverse 911) failed, they turned to Twitter andFacebook to disseminate evacuation information.

To get a sense of what’s happening on Twitter in real-time, an example of tweets from today (9/10) with the hashtag #boulderfire demonstrates how information is being communicated in 140 characters or less: everything from evacuation/reentry information, donations, info regarding pets, to a new online forum for those affected.

  • #boulderfire pls help get this message to those who need it-if you were evacuated we would like to provide you lunch or dinner
  • For help w/pets 2nite call Dispatch 303-441-3333. Pets will be housed either here or transported by officer to@LongmontHumane
  • BoulderChanner1:UPDATE: FOUR MILE CANYON #boulderfire Reverse 911 fails: command asks Twitter let people know to evacuate;
  • They’ll open Boulder Heights Pine Brook Carriage Hills, Lee Hill and Olde Stage #Boulderfire
  • The person behind @boulderfire is organizing help on his website. Please take a look. It’s fantastic. #boulderfire #fourmilefire
  • RT @epiccolorado#src @genuine #info No homes destroyed over night. Fire lines held and residents of 4mile can return home at 9 30% contained.#BoulderFire
  • New forum for people affected by#boulderfire http://www.sparkplace.com/

Project EPIC, based at University of Colorado/ Boulder,  is actively mining those tweets in order to help support “the information needs of the public” during this event. The project was created in 2009 with a grant from NSF and their effort is described on their website :

…is a multi-disciplinary, multi-university, multi-lingual research effort to support the information needs by members of the public during times of mass emergency. In this age of social media, we bring our behavioral and technical knowledge of “computer mediated communication” to the world of crisis studies and emergency response….

In practical terms, for this event, they have created a spreadsheet of all relevant tweets which can be sorted by category (e.g. #need, #structure, #offer, #animal) and have created an interactive map which allows people to visualize the information.  By clicking on the color-coded icons you can see all of the detailed information including: author, time, type, report, exact location, as well as the original tweet.

What lessons can we draw from this crisis:

  1. People value timely, highly localized information, whether it came from a neighbor or an “official” source.
  2. Communications systems, such as reverse 911 can fail, redundancy is necessary but should include new media such as Twitter, Facebook, SMS text, etc. that can be disseminated via cell phones or the internet.
  3. During a crisis when 1000s of tweets are posted daily, volunteers might be needed to aggregate  the information and organize it in an interactive, visual format.
  4. Emergency Management officials need to include social media in their emergency communications plans BEFORE the next emergency and exercise those plans.
  5. Information from the public is useful.

See David Wild’s comment on the my last post: “Verifying information from the crowd“. His last sentence really sums up this newly emerging reality for the emergency management community:

The thing that surprises me is how organized and useful these resources are – we assume they would be full of rumors and misinformation, but actually communities seem to be able to curate and organize on the web quite well.

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