Tag Archives: NewZealand

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.”

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In a crisis, Social Media are the new flag poles.

Guest Post by: Rachel Goodchild (New Zealand native, and Blogger.)  This is an exerpt from a longer piece on social media’s application in business.) I (Kim Stephens) have added some  additional thoughts and observations.  Photo credit:  Martin Luff: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23934380@N06/5474235937/

When the Christchurch Earthquake hit (all too literally), it was early in the morning. Much to the frustration of locals struggling to find what was happening, it was not picked up and reported by media right away. However, twitter was awash with information, and users were able to check on each other en masse. As they checked on who had power, what damage had been experienced, and if everyone in that online community was ok, it was clear that the speed in which information could be communicated across this network, often through mobile phones, was astounding.

From a business model, this demonstration of social media’s power to connect with people, solve problems and communicate a message fast and fluently was never more powerful than in those early hours, and later on in the days that followed, with the news of each aftershock becoming broadcast through twitter and facebook a good twenty minutes earlier than the now primed media organisations. Journalists began to use and quote from these sources, half drafting a response ready to go live within minutes of each new event, rather than hours.

This disaster has impacted our people, and our economy, but has also clearly demonstrated how fast a message can get out on the social networks. It also showed how easy it is for one piece of misinformation to grow. Early reports on twitter of looting in the streets turned out to be one or two isolated incidents. Imagination and one hundred and forty characters can be a dangerous combination when unhindered in their message.

Twitter works well in a crisis situation because it’s not device specific. As Catherine Arrow [a New Zealand based, public relations consultant] explains, “You can access it where ever you are. With an Iphone and a flip camera I have everything I need to broadcast a message” This can then be resent out from the people following her to whoever is following them and so on.

(Rachel’s piece continues to discuss the pure business application of social media when organizations are not in a crisis, for more info click over to her blog.)

Social Media are the Flag Poles (Story continued: by Kim Stephens)

Emergency management organizations implore people to include in their personal preparedness plan a physical place to rendezvous after a crisis, for example, the flag pole. With the advent of social media, however, this new rendezvous location can now also be virtual. I understand the limitations of only relying on a network that might possibly be down, nonetheless, the Christchurch earthquake has provided us with some interesting examples of this concept. Rachel mentions people checking on each other “en masse” via social media. In a recent post, I discussed how companies could use social media after a disaster for continuity of business purposes, to include accounting for staff whereabouts and safety. This is exactly what happened in New Zealand with the telecom company.

I feel a little guilty eavesdropping on this company’s Facebook page, but I think how they used the platform is a great example of my flagpole metaphor. This particular telecom company had an active role in the disaster response:  restoring and maintaining communications. However, they also, of course, needed to account for all of their employees. Above is one of the first posting to their facebook page after the quake.

Subsequently, they used the site to find people who had not yet been accounted for. (This person was found.)

This is just one example, but with each new event we are increasingly seeing people using social media to “check-in” and to “check on” friends, families and employees. Businesses should understand that if they do have a social media presence, it can be used for so much more than developing relationships with customers. It really can become a hub for your employees after a crisis. Maybe its time to think about including this in your preparedness plan.

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