Tag Archives: Disaster

#CrisisMapping for Recovery: Crisis Clean Up–A Collaboration Tool

Post by: Kim Stephens

medium_8179611271A truism in emergency management is that after a disaster thousands of people want to volunteer–the more high profile the event the more show up, sometimes creating a second disaster. Having a system to organize these altruistic individuals is critical.  As one researcher states: “…the effectiveness of volunteerism depends highly upon how well volunteers and voluntary groups and organizations are coordinated.  In this sense, having vast numbers of people and supplies frequently pose serious challenges for emergency management.”  Coordination, in turn, depends on clear, consistent, and timely communications (FEMA). But how is this done effectively?

The Problem

Aaron Titus, a member of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, knows the ends and outs of volunteer coordination all too well. The faith-based group he is associated with can mobilize thousands of people–ready, willing, and able to work. In the days after Hurricane Sandy, that is exactly what happened: Aaron faced a veritable army of over 20,000 volunteers who needed to complete thousands of tasks across a large geographic area. How could he provide “clear, consistent, and timely communications” as well as a method to determine, track and record what everyone was doing? And…what about all of the other non-spontaneous organizations that also showed up to help?

medium_8236682972Coordinating not only what his own group was doing, but also ensuring that they were not duplicating efforts or leaving out survivors who needed assistance, was a problem that seemed insurmountable. BUT he had a secret weapon. During the southern New Jersey “derecho” storms of July, 2012 he had used  the little programming knowledge he had to sort out a simple, yet brilliant, software solution. With a  job as big as Sandy, he enlisted the help of other developers, including Jeremy Pack, to create a more robust version of that solution that ended up being utilized by more than 100 organizations.

The Tool

What Aaron created, essentially, was a work-order-system/Crisis Map. The system has the following basic components (see an example map here).

  • Intake: An online intake request/assessment form is made available to 2-1-1. This enables the 2-1-1 operator to input information (as non-personally identifiable, as possible) about where the work needs to be done, who is requesting, and what is being requested. These forms are customizable–for instance, if a disaster hit an area with a large population of non-English speakers, a field for “language spoken” could be added.
  • ccuLegendTracking: A case number is generated for each request and the form syncs to a map–automated fields are included to alleviate confusion, for instance,  the county-field is automated. Whether or not the work is on private or public property is also noted–which is VERY important.  Communities need to keep track of all public volunteer work in order to count this against FEMA’s public assistance contribution requirements.
  • Categorization: The software includes categories and codes for the work order request based on completion and type. Regarding completion,  a red icon indicates work is “unassigned,” yellow means “claimed,” green is “completed,” and grey is “out of scope.” There are two categories of work indicated: flood damage or tree/wind damage. This distinction is made because some organizations do not let volunteers operate chain saws.
  • Assignments:  Affiliated organizations, as well as organizations that can prove they are legitimate, are allowed to access the map in order to claim work and record completed work. By claiming work, the group essentially says, “We can do this one.”
  • Stop-Gaps: The system has features that prevent the same request from being recorded more than once. When the 2-1-1 operator starts to enter a name or address a field pops up listing all similar entries.
  • Updates: The volunteers doing the work can update the status on the software system, which is seen by the 2-1-1 operator. If someone calls back to 2-1-1 asking about the status,  the operator can see if a group (as well as which group) has claimed the work.
  • Reporting: 2-1-1 staff can generate summary reports about the work requested and completed to provide to local or state emergency management officials.

*****In response to a few questions on Twitter, there’s one point of clarification. The ability to sign-up for the tool is available to any organization participating in recovery, including 2-1-1.

Unique Solution

There are a couple of things about this  volunteer-work-order system that are unique. For one, no group is “assigned” tasks or even a geographic area–as is often done using a grid technique. They can choose what, when and where to work on their own. Also, even though the system is online, the privacy of the requestor is protected–only those groups that have been granted access can see all of the detailed information: the public-facing maps on the Crisis Clean Up website do not include homeowners names, addresses or phone numbers–see example below.

I also like that this system is integrated into the existing government partnership with United Way’s 2-1-1. A lot of State and local communities have started to use 2-1-1 to communicate emergency recovery information. For example, officials in New Jersey state “…2-1-1 is a critical communication link between emergency management professionals and the public-at-large. By the very nature of the 2-1-1 system, NJ 2-1-1 is perfectly positioned to respond immediately during times of crisis. It is structured to manage the expected high volume of crisis-related calls and the 2-1-1 staff is trained to direct callers to services most appropriate for their needs.”



So how much does this all costs? Unfortunately, it is free for anyone to use. Why  “unfortunately?” Free usually means that the product or the solution is not sustainable–although it is open source. They do have a “donate” button on the website, but I’m guessing their list of contributors is quite small. Aaron and his team work on this software tool as a labor of love–however, I’m sure they would be happy if the Knight Foundation, or another philanthropic organization provided them the necessary cash flow to ensure disaster-impacted communities could have access to this amazing tool. If you are interested in volunteering with them I’m guessing Aaron would be pleased to hear from you–especially if you are a seasoned grant writer! Contact him via Twitter @aarontitus.

Bonus Video:

Volunteer photo 1. Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/lunaparknyc/8179611271/”>Luna Park Coney Island</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Volunteer photo 2. Credit: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/vixwalker/8236682972/”>Vix Walker</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Note: Developer Andy Gimma now co-leads the Crisis Cleanup project, along with Chris Wood.

Emergency Preparedness, Web 2.0-Community Style

Post by: Kim Stephens

sf72Getting the public to pay attention to emergency preparedness information can be a challenge. Research in this area tells us that “community-based participatory approaches to designing and disseminating risk communication for at-risk populations, and offering messages in multiple modes that are locally and personally relevant, would have many benefits for strengthen emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for at-risk populations, but are currently underutilized.” Meredith, et al (2008).   Although social media has helped provide a participatory multi-modal approach, there are still many improvements that could be made.

San Francisco, with leadership from Alicia Johnson (@UrbanAreaAlicia) the city’s Resilience and Recovery Manager, is making huge leaps in providing personally relevant preparedness information with the revamp of their 72 Hours preparedness site SF72 or San Francisco 72 Hours. I should note that Alicia emphasized that the site is a team effort and includes the design and innovation consulting firm Ideo, @ideo; Rob Dudgeon, the Director of SF Emergency Services or @sfDEMrob; and Kristin Hogan or @kristinlhogan.

I spoke with an Alicia about the goals and direction this site will be taking. She stated that SF72 concept came from the realization that our current preparepdness messaging is not working.

“So much of what we do is based on individuals preparedness. But research from recent disasters has shown us that people prepare and respond as communities. You never recover from a disaster as an individual, you recover as a community.”

The new site is not quite finished at the time of writing. Once it is done and vetted with SF stakeholders, including the public, the plan is to replace the existing 72Hours.org,

3 Common Preparedness Messaging Mistakes This Type of Site Can Address

photo-91.  Too much information in a non-visual format. We live in an era of video and image communication, yet we continue to provide the public information in a heavy-text format. Public safety organizations are not alone in committing this error. For instance, my high school junior literally tosses college information mailers in the trash if they only include a letter and few, if any, pictures. Mailers that do have a lot of images, however, get placed on her bulletin board.  In terms of public safety,  I commend the new wave of  preparedness apps coming out of emergency management offices, however, quite a few of them look like the screen shot above. And although all of the information is complete, I have to wonder why the content wasn’t made more accessible, with icons or pictures for instance, especially since this particular page is tailored for people with special needs.

banner image

2. Not enough interactive content.  Providing a laundry list of protective action measures is not necessarily the best method to communicate this information.  More than likely it is not even read (see #1).  Even though a list may provide all of the correct content, active learning is way more fun, meaning it holds people’s attention. This increases the chance that the material is retained. The SF72 site embraces this active model, which is evident in the “Quake Quiz,” an interactive quiz that is not only very visual but interesting enough to hold the attention of kids and adults alike. Other apps, such as the game associated with the Disaster Preppers TV show, also provides an example of how preparedness content doesn’t have to be dry, but can actually be entertaining as well.


3. No (or not enough) emphasis on sharing. As the general public moves more and more towards openness this sometimes causes uneasiness in government sectors: sharing isn’t caring… it as a violation of the personal privacy protection act. However, asking people to share with their social networks how they are  preparing  is a great idea/best practice. Why? We know people will often respond more positively when asked to do something by a friend versus a government agency. (See the CDC’s 2012 Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Manual.)

Providing the opportunity for sharing is one thing that the SF72 site also does well. People are asked, for instance, to share that they took the quake quiz and even have access to a bit of code in order to place a banner on any website or blog (which is how I included the image above).  They also intend to include videos of people talking about their experiences during large and small disaster (e.g. a house fire) and how they were prepared, or what they would have done differently. This statement on the site demonstrates their desire to embrace the concept of community.

SF72 is San Francisco’s gathering place for emergency preparedness.
We believe in connection, not catastrophe. We believe in the power of many pairs of hands. We believe in supporting the city we love.

I’m looking forward to seeing the entire site completed.  Alicia also told me that once it is finished, it will be available to other communities to adopt as well, since they are doing the project in an open source format. The quake quiz, however, is a licensed product. If you are interested in more information you can reach Alicia via Twitter or provide a comment below.

Is your organization doing anything similar? Let me know.


New Study: Social Media Use During Disasters

Post by: Kim Stephens

This is a very short post to alert my readers to a great resource: “Social Media Use During Disasters: A Review of the Knowledge Base and Gaps” published December 12, 2012. Interestingly, despite this recent publishing date, the authors were even able to include some findings on the use of social media during  Hurricane Sandy.

startThe report was done by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism: A Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence, based at the University of Maryland with support from the Science and Technology Directorate of DHS. The authors are Julia Daisy Fraustino, Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland; Brooke Liu, Associate Professor and START Affiliated Faculty Member at the University of Maryland; and Yan Jin, Associate Professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

In an interview with the authors, published on START’S  website, they explain their overarching goal for writing the report:

“We hope this report can serve as a map for policy makers and emergency managers as they navigate disaster communication decisions,” said Brooke Fisher Liu, START researcher and Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland. “We sought to provide a summary of what is currently known so decision makers don’t have to risk relying on intuition alone or inaccurate information.”

For those of you who are developing training materials, the content could provide very good sourced and referenced background information. Let me know what you found the most interesting.

Emergency Managers should find their funny bone.

Post by: Kim Stephens

Reaching the public with preparedness and mitigation information has always been difficult. The Federal Emergency Management Agency even tried to address this problem with a crowdsourced project: Sharing the Responsibility to Protect Communities Against the Impacts of Disasters This government “challenge” offered no monetary incentive, but they received 188 submissions, nonetheless. (CDCs Flu App Challenge, in contrast, is offering $35,000 in prizes.)

THE CHALLENGE: To come up with ideas on how we can all help prepare our communities before disaster strikes and how the government can support community-based activities to help everyone be more prepared.

Looking through the submissions, there is everything from “Air Port Kitchens for cooking,”  to “Disaster Preparedenss Tax Credit,” to a “Just-in Time Disaster Registry”. Full disclosure, I also submitted an idea that utilizes social media called  “Peer-to-Peer Preparedness.”A lot of these proposals have tremendous merit, but I doubt any one item will be the magic bullet.

Social media is already serving as a platform for emergency management programs to communicate preparedness and mitigation information, but to be honest,  it is difficult to get people to pay attention to your sites when there is not a crisis. How can “be ready” possibly compete with a stalking cat–which has gotten over 21,000,000 million views! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzzjgBAaWZw&feature=related

One recommendation I would have to gain more viewers is simple: be funny. Of course, what is humorous and what is not is up for debate and even research; see this  article: An examination of Cognitive Factors Related to Humorousness in Television Advertising. However, watching this video of a TV-fisherman-personality, I realized that people of all ages (from my 80 year-old dad to my 14 year-old daughter) find this funny.  If the message was “don’t be this guy, do XYZ instead,” it might be a way to reach people.

I’m under no illusion that this would immediately solve our lack of interest in disaster preparedness in the U.S., but a funny personality to carry the message might be a good start to at least promote awareness.  Find the funniest person in your office and think about how to gain viewers through the power of laughter.