Tag Archives: ChristChurch

What’s Open? A tool to find businesses after a crisis.

Post by: Kim Stephens

After a crisis, a simple question can be complicated: what’s open? Even after a minor snow storm some businesses alter their hours of operation and finding that information can prove frustrating for customers. I don’t often blog about private companies, but I really like the format and simplicity of the new website  called, quite appropriately, “What’s Open” by  the Vibbre company in Christchurch, New Zealand.

All business continuity plans should include ways to inform employees, suppliers, customers and local emergency services of operations after a crisis. The use of social media tools to keep these stakeholders informed is growing, and I have even seen examples of small businesses tweeting that they have supplies in stock (“We still have shovels!”)   in the lead up to a storm. Ushahidi, which was deployed after the New Zealand Earthquake and the Australian flooding disaster, is also a data aggregation and visualization platform (ad free). It can be used to inform the public of where to find supplies, and in both cases, included categories to help locate ATMs and essential items such as fresh water.  Other data, including infrastructure damage, could also be found on the map.

The “What’s Open” tool, however, is strictly focused on businesses.

The organizers of the site list their objective as a way to “help connect the people of Christchurch with their local businesses so everyone can get back to their feet.” The site is free for business and consumers to use, but they are soliciting for retailers to buy the banner ad space at the top of the home page.

The map gives users a quick view of what is open in their vicinity and provides a platform for establishments to post information, including specials and coupons, in addition to just their hours of operation.

Some people might balk at the notion of visiting a site after a crisis and seeing banner ads. However, I think if the site can be self-sustaining it might mean more valuable data is available in the immediate aftermath, or even before, an event. Just as an example, think how handy this list would be as Irene spins up the East Coast. I could envision evacuees looking for Hotels that take pets, for instance.

What are your thoughts? Should services such as this one have advertisements?

Crisis data, it’s not just for response organizations.

Post By: Kim Stephens

Recently, Jeannette Sutton wrote a brief article about what they are finding in New Zealand regarding the use of social media and data in general in the ChristChurch earthquake disaster. Her title: “Competing information, complementary information, coordinating information” sums up some of the problems citizens have with regard to understanding where to find accurate and trustworthy info on social media and other online platforms.  “Without a central, authoritative site members of the public must make serious evaluations about which information will lead to their decision-making and actions.” She noticed, however, that quite a bit of this online info, including social media, isn’t a restatement of official info, or even a contradiction as some might assume, but rather serves as a complement. She states:

For instance, volunteer technical communities that mobilize resources early on aggregate and map information from the crowd. This is a complementary activity to those serving in official capacities that are responsible for critical infrastructure and emergency response. There are other examples that also show this complementary nature of efforts that may or may not duplicate data sources, but serve specific populations and needs at varying points of the response.

The nature of this complementary data was discussed a bit in a conversation this weekend about the upcoming National Level Exercise ’11 with Heather Blanchard of CrisisCommons. We talked about the importance of everyone–citizens, government response organizations and NGOs, having access to data that she calls community indicator dataCommunity Indicator Data could be defined as any data regarding the location and state of the infrastructure that serve the affected community. This could include: shelters, grocery store availability, communications (i.e. state of cell phone towers and telecoms) hospitals, banking/ATMs, water, fuel, power, etc. Some of this data can be highly localized and can fluctuate often during the recovery. But as Ms. Sutton also points out in her article, for citizens, it is important to be able to access this information in a meaningful format.

The “ownership” of this data varies widely. Some of the information is from the private sector (e.g. grocery stores, fuel, power); some is from non-governmental organizations (e.g. shelters and feeding centers); and some is citizen or user-generated (e.g.”I’m willing to open my well of clean water for those who live nearby). User-generated data can be curated by volunteers from social media feeds such as twitter, news feeds, and/or blogs, etc or can even be sent directly to those curators via text message or email. The crisismapping community understands that citizens need access to all of this information–not just response organizations.  Their contribution is to analyze, sort, validate and format this data into visualization platform–the picture above is of a Ushahidi map from Christchurch, NZ of available fresh water after the quake.

Google has also taken up the role of sorting, filtering, and visualizing crisis data as is evident in their expanding and ongoing role in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake . Their public policy blog details the resources they have made available to all involved: impacted citizens, concerned family members, news media, first responders, and volunteer organizations. The person-finder application has now been deployed for many disasters, and it was up and running with two hours of the earthquake. It seems they have learned from each deployment, and for this event, for example, they have made the service a little easier to use for people without smartphones.

Low-tech meets high-tech:

I’ve seen several news reporters standing in shelters next to a wall of paper with lists of names people missing. Google has reached out to shelter occupants and asked them to take pictures of those lists and email them to the company. The article explains: “Those photos are automatically uploaded to a public Picasa Web Album. We use scanning technology to help us manually add these names to Person Finder; but it’s a big job that can’t be done automatically by computers alone, so we welcome volunteers with Japanese language skills who want to help out.”

Google understands the need for citizens to have access to community indicator data which is why they are providing timely updates of  rolling blackouts.  They are importing data from Honda, to display a map of impassable roads. Other data available:

…a Google Earth mashup with new satellite imagery. We’re also constantly updating a master map (in Japanese and English) with other data such as epicenter locations and evacuation shelters. And with information from the newspaper Mainichi, we’ve published a partial list of shelters.

Satellite images
We’re also working with our satellite partners GeoEye and DigitalGlobe to provide frequent updates to our imagery of the hardest-hit areas to first responders as well as the general public. You can view this imagery in this Google Earth KML, browse it online through Google Maps or look through our Picasa album of before-and-after images of such places asMinamisanriku and Kesennuma.

Since Japan has a very robust emergency response system, and their citizens are very resourceful, it is interesting to see what role this non-traditional response organization– Google– is playing during the crisis. But in general, I think this year has taught us the importance of having publicly available data. Although Dr. Sutton was talking about New Zealand, I think some of her findings apply to the Japan situation as well. She states: “…this complementary nature of efforts may or may not duplicate data sources, but serve specific populations and needs at varying points of the response.”

The fourth essential use of social media in a crisis.

Post by: Kim Stephens

Gislio Olfassan, who has “been involved in disaster management related activities for the past 16 years, both nationally [in Iceland] and internationally,” recently wrote on his blog that there are essentially three uses of social media in disasters:

  • Advocacy and Fundraising – utilizing social media to interact more closely with people donating and influencing public opinion
  • Information Sharing with affected communities – reaching out during disasters to the affected community with information about services, threats, etc.
  • Information Management – utilizing the social media platforms to collect, process, analyze and disseminate information required for organizations to do their work

There are many others, I think, but today, I would like to add a fourth:

  • Information Sharing with concerned citizens–reaching out to those outside of the impacted area who might reside in a nearby region, state, in the country, or on the other side of the world (think of them as concentric circles emanating from a pebble dropped in water). These people will have either an active or a passive interest.

The role of informing citizens about disasters around the world has traditionally been held by the news media. But if someone has a more active interest, for example,  relatives or friends in the impacted area, or they are interested in helping remotely, then the news media is basically irrelevant.   For example, ChristChurch, New Zealand has suffered a devastating earthquake, but most US national news outlets have devoted maybe 3 minutes TOTAL to the story.  This is not a new problem, but social media is filling the information gap.

What does this mean to your response organization?

When using social media you are not only informing the affected community, but you are involved in informing and engaging a much broader audience. You can use this platform to educate this audience about how to help vs. hinder the response effort (I’m not addressing volunteers in this category, they use social media for “information management” purposes, mentioned above by Gislio). There are many ways interest in a crisis can hinder you. One concern I’ve heard voiced (which isn’t necessarily borne out by fact) is that if people have a lot of details about an event (e.g. location, etc.) they might show up to “look”. Curious people, however, can bog down traditional internet sites intended for survivors. There is also a concern (warranted or not) that people might repeat non-factual information. Is this a reason for less information, less engagement, or more?  I argue that these are all reasons for more information, especially information disseminated through social media platforms which won’t cave under the pressure of the world’s eyes.

If informed, the broader public can help the response effort in many ways. Here are just a few examples:

  • Amplify the “official” message by repeating factual information originally posted by response organizations.
  • Answer questions posed by either other interested citizens, or by the affected community (and knock down false information or rumors).
  • The public can be educated to stay off of internet sites intended for survivors, which can crash from overload.

1. Interest by-standers will amplify your message: (see also the related blog post by James Hamilton)

After analyzing data from the flooding in Australia, the research project called New Media and Public Communication: Mapping Australian User-Created Content in Online Social Networks, based at Queensland University of Technology determined “somewhat surprisingly (since it was relatively unknown before the crisis), the Queensland Police Service’s @QPSmedia account emerges as a clear frontrunner” in terms of receiving the most @replies and the most re-tweets. A message that is re-tweeted means an exponential growth in those that see the message. It doesn’t matter if the re-tweeter is sitting next door to the impacted area of half a world away–just because I live far away doesn’t mean I don’t know people who have been affected.

2. The public will answer questions posed by others

Just because your response organization is participating on a social media platform or even actively engaging in a hashtag on twitter doesn’t mean you have to answer every single question posed. The information you and volunteers organizations are streaming will add to the knowledge base of the entire user community and they will start to answer each other’s questions based on that correct information as well as deny false information. As an example, Google during the ChristChurch crisis (although not a traditional response organization) very quickly put up a person finder application. This message was often repeated (I don’t have details on how many times) and I’ve also seen examples where individuals guided those looking for loved-ones to that google site. See this blog post.

3. The public can be educated about dos and dont’s with regard to social media and internet use (e.g. stay off internet sites intended for survivors).

Sending people to a website from a facebook page or from a twitter account can cause that site to crash. But if you don’t have a social media presence then the site will surely crash because it will be the only place for people to get information. Usually it’s not just survivors viewing these pages but anyone with an interest. However, you can teach the broader public to understand this problem just by talking about it. People for the most part are very respectful when they understand an issue. Furthermore, the more information you are able to provide on third-party social media platforms, the less this will be a problem to begin with.

This obviously is just a sampling of why social media platforms are important in a crisis, but one last word of caution, make sure you get involved in these mediums before a major crisis hits, otherwise, you will be playing “catch-up” and that’s never a fun game during a disaster.

How to help New Zealand:

See also: The Yellow Tape Conundrum in Social Media and Emergency Management, by Adam S. Crowe.