Post by: Kim Stephens
The International Conference of Crisis Mappers brought together a network of people who, as described on their website, work at
Leveraging mobile platforms, computational linguistics, geospatial technologies, and visual analytics to power effective early warning for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies.
Their well publicized crisis mapping effort was done during the response to the earthquake in Haiti, but Patrick Meier of Ushahidi has tried to find a way to formalize the formerly ad hoc nature of the group with a “Standby Crisis Mappers Task Force“. This group would be organized in advance of the next big event to work with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or (OCHA). He envisions the group providing three things: (1) technical support with regard to software deployment and development; (2) multi-media support including “media monitoring, geo-referencing, mapping, blogging on updates, etc.”; and (3) a general support element, the Crowd Force Team, which would include individuals without any particularly specialized skills other than a willingness to help.
Others have talked about a Virtual Crisis Crowd Coordination Center (Gisli Olafsson in particular), which could potentially complement the Task Force concept. The VCCC (which has way too many C’s to be an acronym) would be a place for people to register their interest in volunteering their technical skills (remotely) to be matched with the needs of pre-registered organizations.
It seems we are grappling a little for a model to tap the cognitive surplus of more-than capable people that want to volunteer their technical skills during disasters.Dept. of Homeland Security is already moving forward with a pilot project called “NET Guard” or National Emergency Technology Guard, which provides a way to deploy technical volunteers during crises. Although this model was not designed for people with the technical expertise available to the Crisis Mappers community, the model is worth considering.
The DHS website describes the project and its rationale as follows:
Information Technology (IT) and communications systems are vulnerable to damage from natural hazards, accidents, and acts of terrorism and play an essential part in the effectiveness of response operations. Most of the National Planning Scenarios contemplate the loss of, or significant damage to, IT and communications systems.
Following authorization in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the NET Guard program concept was developed through a DHS scoping initiative and work group involving stakeholders and potential partners including state and local government representatives, emergency managers, potential private sector partners and DHS Divisions. DHS/FEMA will use the NET Guard Pilot Programs to test and further evaluate and develop the program concept.
The NET Guard Program is envisioned as a means to provide emergency, temporary reconstitution of IT and communications systems, or installation of emergency, temporary IT and communications systems, for governmental entities, private non-profit entities performing governmental functions, and private sector entities providing essential services. The NET Guard Program is also envisioned as a means to surge additional IT and communications resources into impacted areas to assist entities with emergency IT and communications system activities.
The concept of the team includes several similar themes present in the Crisis Mappers Task Force concept in that volunteers
- will be verified with having relevant expertise
- tested as an asset during exercises
- established and maintained by either a government entity or through a private sector sponsor (e.g. the IBM tech volunteer team)
The NET Guard would be part of the Citizen Corps but with local emergency management affiliations (which is key for the development of trust) and are envisioned to be incorporated into their local agency’s emergency operations plans. Included in their functions in the pilot program–but buried way at the bottom– is the function of…”staffing expertise for GIS applications, social networking”. I feel like I found the needle in the haystack!
So, the questions I would ask then are: (1.) Would the Crisis Mappers Task Force ever be envisioned for use in response efforts inside the United States? (2.) Where do volunteer efforts such as the Crisis Commons fit with these models, particularly in the U.S.? And (3.) If this is intended to be a local asset, what happens when a community is impacted and your asset has evacuated? In other words, it doesn’t take into account people that would like to contribute that live no where near the event.