Post: By Kim Stephens
My last post discussed the Queensland Police Department’s effective use of social media during the current flooding disaster to disseminate information. Now I would like to turn to examples of how social media can facilitate “citizen helping citizen”. Citizens aiding each other during a crisis is obviously not new, what is new is the ability to leverage technology, such as social media and crowdsourcing platforms, to amplify efforts and potentially even take some of the pressure off traditional response organizations.
Eventually, it would be worth examining the efficacy of these campaigns based on some sort of established criteria. For example, the five criteria outlined in Ushahidi’s own evaluation of their effort in Haiti were: relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, and sustainability. But for now, I’d like to just catalog some examples of these endeavors and take a quick stab at their relevance based on number of users/distribution.
Finding shelter is a common problem in any disaster. But Oz Flood Help.org (a “social media project by “Get-Up Australia”) has essentially crowdsourced the problem by providing a platform where people can describe their housing needs and then be matched with homeowners willing to open their doors. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen home-sharing sites, during the Colorado wildfires around the Boulder area there was a similar effort. This one, however, seems to have more widespread participation, with about 400 homes offered–22 pages of homes were listed at time of writing.
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Finding your lost pets is another common problem in a crisis. Facebook pages, such as the one pictured on the right, have sprung up to fill this need. The “Lost and Found” site uses the power of social media to disseminate information about animals affected by this event. The stated goal is simply “just hoping this page can help to reunite some owners with their pets after the devastating floods that have hit QLD 2011”. As stated in the paper “Crowdsourcing Critical Success Factor Model” by Ankit Sharma, one criteria for success is sufficient crowd participation. That seems like an obvious criteria when trying to reunite animals with owners. This site, with over 10,000 fans, seemed to be a great example.
The Australian Broadcasting Company is currently using the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform as a way to determine the extent of the flood’s impact by receiving reports directly from the citizens. They stated reason for the effort: “ABC correspondents, reporters, presenters and photographers have been covering many dimensions of the flood disaster. However, the mainstream media cannot be everywhere at once.”
Their goals: “This Crowdmap aims to combine verified reports from government agencies and media outlets including the ABC but potentially invaluable information supplied by people like you, who simply see, hear or record incidents or situations due to the floodwaters.” They indicate that they are “particularly interested in incidents (things that “happen”) or situations which provide useful information to those affected by this disaster. This includes situations such as: Property Damage; Road and Bridge Closures; Evacuations; Injuries and Electricity Outages.” In other words, situational awareness data.
As of writing, they had 99,769 reports filed with about 99% of them verified. (By quickly looking through the data, however, it’s easy to spot exact duplicates). The reports are broken down into categories listed below. The best part of the platform just might be the ability to receive location-based Alerts based on categories of interest, although I think one shortfall is that you can only receive them as an email. Anyone can sign up to receive alerts on the following categories:
- Electricity Outages
- Property Damage
- Recovery Assistance Required
- Roads Affected
- Schools Recovery
- Volunteer Efforts
Again, the efficacy of this campaign will need to be studied, but the amount of reports is initially impressive. I’d be interested to know, however, if local response organizations signed up for alerts and if they did, did it provide them with any new information? Did it aid them in their response efforts? At least local officials are aware of the map: the QLD police facebook page included a link to the platform.
I’m sure there are many more examples, but I think these three give a taste of the impact social media and technology are having in crisis response and recovery, and it is especially interesting to see this unfold in a modern country with a modern response apparatus. There is a lot to learn from this event.
- Queensland Police Facebook Page: Best Practice in Crisis Communications (idisaster.wordpress.com)
- Visualizing the Flood Crisis in Queensland with Real-Time Citizen Reports (readwriteweb.com)
- Queensland and the Ushahidi Ecosystem (ushahidi.com)
- Visualizing the Flood Crisis In Queensland with real-time citizen reports(RWW)