Post by: Kim Stephens
We are used to seeing volunteers stand up maps that allow both reporting and viewing of citizen-generated situational information. But for Hurricane Sandy, Fairfax County, Virginia Office of Emergency Management has jumped on the crowd-mapping bandwagon. In fact, this is one of the few “official” crowdmaps I’ve seen in the United States. Most emergency management organizations are very leery of citizen generated content. I often hear EMs state: “What if people report wrong information? We will be held liable?” or “What if people expect emergency services to show up since we are announcing that we are collecting this content?” The list goes on and on. Fairfax County, the social media rockstars that they are, have decided the benefits outweigh the concerns.
They do, however, address some of these issues by stating prominently on the page:
“PLEASE READ: This reporting system is NOT a replacement for 9-1-1. If you are experiencing an emergency or need to officially report an incident, please call 9-1-1 or the public safety non-emergency number at 703-691-2131, TTY 711. This reporting system is a new tool we’re testing, so we do not expect it will be comprehensive. We will monitor your reports. If we see something significant you share, we will share it with emergency responders/planners. This will give us a selected sense of what’s happening across Fairfax County as a result of Hurricane Sandy.”
Post Hurricane Sandy, I’ll be very interested to hear how well this platformed performed for them; for example, if they were able to obtain information about what was happening (downed trees, flooded roads and traffic lights out) more quickly than they would have otherwise. Nonetheless, I think it is a great step in the direction of openness and inclusiveness–no matter what it’s operational utility proves to be.