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- Information Design: Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?
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Tag Archives: National Weather Service
Posted on April 30, 2011
Post by: Kim Stephens
I often find myself explaining twitter to people who have never used the micro-blogging platform before, or at least haven’t used it very much. I find it a little like to trying to explain what an elephant looks like to someone who’s only seen the nose. But what occurred to me while reading the twitter feed after the devastating Southern storms, is that reading them was like reading a book written by 100s of people: each phase of the disaster is a different “chapter” and each tweet is one sentence in a paragraph. Sometimes the sentences are out of order and sometimes they don’t make sense until you read the entire page but, nonetheless, each one sheds a little more light on the plot.
How do you choose which book to read? The hashtags associated with each tweet organize the information into “books” if you will suffer with my analogy here. #ALwx stands for Alabama weather and by following that tag, you don’t even need to know or follow any of the individuals tweeting the information. For more insights into the definition of hashtags see the Twitter Fan Wiki definition.
I would like to use this horrible crisis to continue the analogy, but in no way do I mean to trivialize it. Rather, I hope to shed some light on what types of information is conveyed through the platform.
Chapter 1: Take Cover If an event has a warning, as this one did, you will find in the twitter feed many personal safety messages as well as information about the storms’ track. Most of these originate from government agencies, for example FEMA, NWS, local news stations and local public safety agencies. This tweet, for example started with FEMA.
But citizens also add their own observations.
Chapter 2: You Should be in a Shelter NOW! During a major storm event, the most common tweets are those describing the storms’ location. Notice how information about damage is reported simultaneously and almost instantly.
Chapter 3: Destruction
Pictures such as this one of Gardendale, AL start to show up in the twitter feed instantly, as soon as the storm passes. This pic was posted by a local news organization to their feed, but they received it from a citizen via twitter and yfrog.
Chapter 4: One Voice Emerges
During this recent crisis, James Spann, a meteorologist from ABC 33/40 TV, became the main storyteller. With over 25,000 followers of his own, and many people re-tweeting him, the website Tweetreach estimated that he reached 30,981 people with each tweet. The information he disseminated was original content based on NWS weather data, information people sent him via @ messages (such as donation information), and retweets of other info he found pertinent. This actually makes him more of a content curator, similar to the role Andy Carvin of NPR played (and continues to play) during the Mid-east peace uprisings.
Chapter 5: We will Recover.
Recovery often begins with gratitude and with people figuring out ways to help each other. The twitter feed for this “chapter” is no different. It is also a great place to find stories of hope, such as the tweet about a 8 year-old boy found alive after being sucked into a tornado. I also loved the story of the man finding his dog alive even though everything else was a total loss.
Many tweets point people to where they can donate to the relief effort either monetarily or physically, e.g. with manual labor to help clean up.
I understand that twitter takes some getting used to in order to be able to “read the book”. But once you get the hang of it, it’s really a hard one to put down. If you’d like to donate to help out all those affected here’s the link to the American Red Cross mid-Alabama chapter.
- Tornadoes and storms in the USA (lg10e.wordpress.com)
- Tornadoes and storms rip through South, more than 220 dead (scientificamerican.com)
- Obama Tours Alabama Storm Damage: “I’ve Never Seen Devastation Like This” (blogs.abcnews.com)
- Craziest Tornado Video Yet Shows Scope Of Tuscaloosa Storm (mediaite.com)
Posted on February 3, 2011
Post by: Kim Stephens
Many have assumed that after a large-scale disaster event all communications would be silenced in the impacted areas. Recent experience, however, has proved this assumption incorrect — first with Haiti (Jan 2010) and then in recent months in Australia. In both cases, the cell towers proved to be more resilient than assumed. Because social media platforms can be accessed on hand-held communication devices, survivors and public safety organizations have turned to these platforms as a way to keep the information flowing during and after a disaster.
Citizens in impacted areas don’t just receive information, but increasingly, they send out bits of data about what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling through these platforms. These data, if aggregated, can contribute to overall situational awareness. We are really beginning to understand Brian Humphrey of LAFD’s phrase “every citizen is a sensor”, a take on the phrase every soldier is a sensor. But what now? Citizens, obviously, do not pass the information up through chains of command, nor do usually pass that information in any structured way. How do we filter, verify, aggregate and make sense of ALL THAT DATA? As crisis mapper and PhD candidate Kate Starbird said in a recent interview: “Should it be the only source of information? Absolutely not. But if it’s there, why not use the information?” Also see this video of Craig Fugate, Director FEMA, talk about how important this is.
This is a really big topic so I have just tackled a small part of the issue in this post. I also have tried to include as many links as possible to articles that explore the topic in much greater depth. The point here is to try to aggregate some of these issues and questions for use in our discussion on the SMEMchat hashtag, which is scheduled to take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 1230. If you have other questions you’d like brought up, please post them to twitter on #SMEM or at the bottom of this post.
QUESTION #1: How do we gather information from social media platforms?
(a.) One way to gather data: ask for it. The US Army Handbook on Social Media suggests that during an emergency “Organizations should encourage people on the scene to send information.” They go on to state that “No matter how information is submitted, the command site should promote this content when appropriate.”
(b.) Be a magnet. What I think we are seeing in Australia, is that the Queensland Police Service social media presence has created an avenue for people to provide information that can be more easily monitored by response personnel. They have done this both with their twitter account, by establishing and using hashtags that were widely adopted during the flood and the current cyclone, and by creating a robust facebook page. Just by reading through the comments on the QPS site, you get a sense of how people can provide situational awareness information directly to you. One person states: “Just gotten in contact with family in Kewarra and they have power, not to sure of damage but it wasn’t as bad as we first thought…”
One concern I’ve heard voiced from response organizations is privacy. However, if people are volunteering their information to your open and public site, they most likely understand it is not a private conversation. Another concern I’ve heard came from the QPS media team themselves, there is a LOT of information to sort through. This brings up the question:
Can/should emergency operation centers use volunteers to help sort through the data pouring in through their own social media sites?
(c.) Have trusted sources: Other emergency managers, Cheryl Bledsoe in particular, have noted the importance of having a presence before an event, which helps create real trust with people online. During an event you can turn to these “trusted agents” as sources of information. (Hey @greatguy What are you seeing around the lake?).
Again, Jeff Phillips, aka @LosRanchosEM, provides a great example of this. Here in this screen shot of his twitter feed, you can see that he is retweeting information supplied by others. When asked about his practices in RTing Jeff states: “I do my best to verify “trust” before RT – not the same as saying only “official” sources. Sometimes I RT with a question mark.” I asked him if he includes that information in his official situational report, and he indicated that he does include verified information in his county’s sitrep.
QUESTION #2: Can We Ask for the data, but in a structured format? Even in Australia, however, we have seen that being a magnet for information is really not enough. There is just too much information for response organizations to make sense of it all in a timely manner. Some of the posts on the QPS facebook page received over 1000 comments. There were thousands of tweets during and after the cyclone with the tag #TCYasi. Trying to sort through and make sense of all of that potential data is a real problem. (I say potential because a lot of comments are merely “thanks for the good work!”.)
What smart phone applications and other formats have been developed to help citizens report data in structured format?
(a.) For smaller-scale events, an example of an application that would make it easier for the public to send information in a more structured format is the application “See Click Fix” which is promoted for use in identifying non-emergency issues in neighborhoods. (Thanks to @UrbanAreaAlicia for pointing this out). As stated on their webpage, this application “allows anyone to report and track non-emergency issues anywhere in the world via the internet.” As the “click” implies, people are encouraged to send in photos of the problems. If you are reminded of Ushahidi, I’ll get to that in a moment. But applications like this one might be worth exploring for use after a disaster, particularly for local government with limited resources.
(b.) The public can also be educated about how to structure information shared through social media platforms so that it can be integrated with other data feeds and placed on visualization platforms. One example of this is the National Weather Service’s new experiment called “Twitter Storm Reports” In their flyer they state: “You can now submit your significant weather observations to the NWS via twitter.” The two page flyer gives very specific information on how-to structure tweets, including a full description of how they should be written with or without geo-tagging. One of the example tweets demonstrates the importance of including the person’s location if they do not have geo-tagging. “#wxreport WW 378 W. 156th Rd. Anthony, KS WW Wind Gusts estimated at 60 mph”.
(c.) This reminded me of the “Tweak the tweet”, an ongoing effort on the part of aforementioned Kate Starbird, a PhD student at the University of Colorado, to educate the public about how to better format tweets in order to”leverage twitter as a semi-formal communications channel”. The campaign also informs users on how to format tweets so that computers can aid in processing the information.
“This processing includes extracting location information, creating incident reports from tweets, and sorting these reports into different types of categories. The processed tweets can then be displayed on public web-pages in a variety of formats that allows users to see where different types of information has been reported.”
This is a very impressive endeavor that is starting to yield some great results. See this 3 page description here.
Correction: In my attempt to be brief it seems I left out some important information. I received an email from Jeannie A. Stamberger, Ph.D., Adjunct Faculty,Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, that sheds some additional light on how and why the tweak-the-tweet was created. Dr. Stamberger states:
I wanted to let you know that I co-created Tweak the Tweet with Kate Starbird at the Random Hacks of Kindness in November 2009; we have published on creating the idea together. At Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley Disaster Mangement Initiative we continue to work on Twitter use in disasters exploring further questions related to gathering accurate credible information from the crowd including just-in-time credibility building, use of social media in disaster drills which teach the public how to use information resources during a disaster, and we will be testing methods in May using Tweak the Tweet in amateur radio; amateur radio is the backbone of communication in disasters, yet the information is missing from the digital feeds currently being processed by the crowd to aid disaster management.
We are also working with local authorities to develop optimal “canned” alert messages to familiarize them with the in’s and out’s of how to get your message across. Others at CMU are working on identifying location of Tweets from colloquial language in content (see January publications) and comprehensive analysis of characteristics associated with re-Tweeting likelihood.
(d.) And Ushahidi (if you’ve never heard of Ushahidi watch this video) has an iPhone app as well. From the iTunes preview page: “Ushahidi is an open source platform for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. The iPhone and iPad app synchronizes with any Ushahidi deployment allowing viewing and creation of incident reports on the go.”
The app supports loading of multiple deployments at one time, quick filtering through incident reports, exploring incident locations on the map, viewing incident photos, news article, media as well as sharing incident reports via email, sms or Twitter. Once the data has been downloaded, the app can function without an internet connection, allowing accurate collection of data utilizing the device’s camera and gps capabilities.
QUESTION #3: Can We Combine social media with geo-spatial mapping?
The description of Ushahidi’s app dovetails perfectly with the question of integrating social media with geo-spatial mapping. Again this example comes from the resent back-to-back crises in Australia. Although geo-spatial mapping with crowdsourced data on the Ushahidi platform became very well known after its well-publicized use in Haiti, I think it showed even more promise in the application’s deployment in Australia when it was combined with the power of the GIS mapping giant, ESRI. The application allowed for “trend analysis” and, based on reports from the field, was used by responders “to create releveance and context from social media reporting.” See this article by Alex Howard, of O’Reilly Radar. Alex continues:
The Australian flooding web app includes the ability to toggle layers from OpenStreetMap, satellite imagery, topography, and filter by time or report type. By adding structured social data, the web app provides geospatial information system (GIS) operators with valuable situational awareness that goes beyond standard reporting, including the locations of property damage, roads affected, hazards, evacuations and power outages.
QUESTION #4: How do we create feedback loops so that responders know when information coming from social media platforms has been acted upon? See the article listed below “From Haiti to-Helmand” for a detailed discussion of this point. Lin Well’s states that feedback is essential to not only know what has been acted upon, but to identify what has not.
There is a lot to discuss. I’m anxious to participate in the online chat with the emergency management community on this topic. I will report back with everyone’s thoughts.
Some Great Sources:
- Wells, L, Welborn R “From Haiti to Helmand: Using Open Source Information to Enhance Situational Awareness and Operational Effectiveness”. Center for Technology and National Security Policy (CTNSP). 2010. Accessed Jan. 2011. <http://star-tides.net/node/745>.
- American Red Cross. ”The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media” American Red Cross. July, 2010. Accessed Aug. 2010. <http://www.redcross.org/www-files/Documents/pdf/other/SocialMediaSlideDeck.pdf>
- Howard, Alex. “Social Data and Geospatial mapping join Crisis Response” O’Reilly Radar Blog. Great article describing integration of crowdsourced data collected on the Ushahidi platform into GIS. 27 january 2011. <http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/01/esri-australia-ushahidi.html?utm_medium=twitter>.
- National Weather Service: “Twitter Storm Reports” A How-to for the public to report weather conditions via twitter. Instuctions include what info to include and geo-tagging. Google Doc. Accessed Jan. 31, 2011. <https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0Byg_SCfWO_j2YjBkMmNlMTktNDljYi00NGI4LTlkNjMtNWZmYjkyNjAxYTlk&hl=en>.
- StarBird, Kate. “Tweak the Tweet: Social and Technical Considerations”. University of Boulder, Colorado. <http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~starbird/blog/tweak_the_tweet_-_social_an.html>. Aug. 14, 2010. Accessed Feb. 2011.
- Fugate, Craig. “Haiti: The Importance of Social Media Use During a Disaster.” <http://video.esri.com/watch/163/haiti-the-importance-of-social-media-use-during-a-disaster>
Your comments and suggestions are invited.
Four ways social media and interactive technologies are used to prepare, mitigate, and recover from disasters
Posted on November 30, 2010
Post by: Kim Stephens
New technologies such as social media and mobile interactive applications are starting to have an impact in the field of emergency management. The impact is not occurring in just the response phase, as has been widely reported, but also during the preparedness, mitigation and even the recovery phase as well. Here are a few recent examples:
During the preparedness phase the real challenge is to make the information compelling so that people pay attention. A few emergency managers are trying to peak the public’s interest by employing interactive game technology and by designing games for use through social media platforms.
- This November, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, funded by a grant from FEMA and in partnership with the Electronic Visualizations Lab, the National Center for Supercomputering Applications and the Center for Public Safety and Justice, announced the development of an interactive game for children to learn disaster preparedness and response strategies. The first simulation is called: “The Day the Earth Shook” which has a focus on preparing for an earthquake, as the name implies. The players are encouraged to help two avatars build a survival kit, find all the safe and unsafe areas in their home, and learn to protect themselves.
- Clark Regional Emergency Services, with a game set to kick off Dec. 1, is employing social media to engage adults in preparedness activities. Their game is called #12 Days Prepared. The game will include a different scenario each day for a total of 12 days. From their blog: “Game participants will be asked to answer 2 basic questions: 1. What are the initial actions you would take upon hearing this scenario? 2. How do you think the community should prepare for such an event?” Answers can be submitted through twitter, facebook, email or the blog’s comment section and earn the players raffle tickets. A drawing at the end of the game will reveal the winners of a few modest prizes.
In October, the United State Geological Survey and the National Weather Service announced the first-of-its-kind “online interactive flood warning tool” which is being piloted in the area surrounding Georgia’s Flint River. Although this tool is currently being used primarily as an early warning system, hopefully, the information about potential threats will help the surrounding communities make better decisions with regard to zoning in order to mitigate future losses.
The Flood Inundation Mapping product is an interactive web-based tool that shows the extent and depth of flood waters over given land areas. These maps enable management officials and residents to see where the potential threat of floodwaters is the highest. Other monitoring tools that provide flood information include streamgages, which provide real time data via satellites to the USGS and NWS for many purposes, including water supply, drought monitoring, and flood warnings. Relative to real time streamgage readings, the Flood Inundation Maps illustrate where floodwaters are expected to travel based upon NWS flood forecasts.
In mitigation of another kind, against school violence as a result or consequence of bullying, Frontline SMS has a new mobile reporting tool called “bully proof“. This system was designed to allow student to send anonymous text messages to school administrators about incidents of bullying or even to report incidences of violence as they happen real-time. The software is free and open source.
This November, the Town of Davie, Florida announced the application of new technologies as part of their infrastructure branch plan for response and restoration efforts in the event of a disaster such as a hurricane. The plan has two main elements: “1. the pre-scripting of response and recovery actions; and (2) the utilization of electronic project-management tools rooted in GIS.” The project management tools consists of both a mobile damage assessment resource tool (MDART) and Command Center GIS (CCGIS). Their application brings the following capabilities:
- “An automated and electronic field inventory of damage, featuring easy-to-use GIS field tools.
- Real-time visualization and mapping within the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of the damage-assessment data collected in the field.
- A real-time “running tally” and assessment of the extent of the damage, including real-time progress tracking of field crews, built-in and automated cost-for-replacement calculations, and the CCGIS Dashboard Toolkit.
- Command Center incident response, decision making and immediate planning using information coming into the EOC from MDART.
- Streamlined and electronic reporting for FEMA…
- A transparent government toolbox featuring a mapping portal solution to make damage inventory and assessment data available to the public and media.”
It seems like the next few years will bring about many changes in the EM field with new technologies playing an ever increasing role in communications, data collection/distribution and information management. Current students majoring in EM might even consider a minor in ICT: information, communication and technology.
- Town of Davie Introduces Visionary Plan for Emergency Management (prnewswire.com)