Tag Archives: Person Finder

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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Social Media and the Japan earthquake: What we can learn.

Post by: Kim Stephens

With every disaster the importance of social media and its potential power seems to grow.  Numerous articles have already been written (just 3 days into the event) about the importance of the medium during this particular crisis, so I’d like to just highlight what I have observed so far. This post is particularly for the cynics who say: “I will never use social media.” or “It’s just a fad.” or “It’s just for teenagers.”

1. People are using social media to determine the whereabouts and well-being of their loved ones.

This has proven to be one of the most reliable ways to find information. Why? This tweet from the US State Department says it all: “Telephone lines disrupted; try contacting loved ones.. via social media.” Many stories are showing up in local papers about families doing just that. From news King5.com out of Seattle, the story: Seattle’s Japanese community tries making contact after quake:

Patty Johnson’s son, Aaron, lives in Tokyo with his wife, who is seven months pregnant.
“It’s just worry, worry, worry,” she said. “Is he OK?” The story recounts how after several hours of waiting news comes that their loved one is OK, via facebook.  “Thank God for Facebook,” she said.

From Boise: Social Media Proves Reliable communication in a time of crisis.

Geoff told KTVB he loves the power of social media.  He is excited to be able to connect with media organizations on Twitter for news updates, and also be able to get updates from his dad in Japan on Facebook at the same time.

Carol Dunn, an emergency management professional and twitter friend, suggested that social media/tech volunteers should be organized to go into nursing homes that have a large population of Japanese americans. These volunteers could bring their laptop computers and facilitate communications via social networks for residence so they can gain information about friends and family. She contacted a Japanese american group on twitter and is currently looking into how to make this happen (maybe with high school volunteers, or crisis commons type volunteers). This is a brand-new idea, but one I think worth pursuing.

2. Social Media are often the best way to gain situational awareness

Social media platforms have become the best way to get information from the scene, and from response organizations (domestic and international). 

As one example, someone on twitter pointed to a link of videos from the impacted area–which were amazing. I left the computer for a bit and went to the gym. While watching MSNBC, they went to a correspondent who proudly showed a video “just in” which was the exact same video I’d watched an hour earlier. With regard to response organizations, the US military and US Department of State post constant information to their twitter feeds, by monitoring them you can get the information basically at the same time the media is getting it, and the media doesn’t always report each item, so you have more information than you would otherwise.

So, how do you monitor these sources: Mashable has a good article  HOW TO: Follow the Japan Earthquake Online (mashable.com) which details which hashtags to follow on twitter and has a good list of resources. But with regard to HOW to use twitter, particularly when there are 1200 tweets per minute, that’s a little trickier. If you use an application like Tweetdeck or Hootesuite, the tweets, particularly right after a event happens, go by so fast that you really can’t read them at all. Several power users online including Chris Hall (@thefiretracker2) and Cheryle Bledsoe (@CherylBle) and others made some great suggestions:

  • Use a twitter application that can be slowed down or stopped altogether. As Cheryl said last night:  “throttle issue is important when a hashtag is blowing up. Tweetdeck usually works, but ability to pause tweets is #priceless” How to do this, from Cheryl again: “use www.twitterfall.com and set the speed or pause the stream until you catch up”.
  • Choose a few power users to follow from the impacted area–for example, government agencies, people in the news media, or just people who seems to be tweeting great info (especially if they are tweeting in your language). You can then create a list to follow. In tweetdeck, here a link to how to do that: “How do I create a new Twitter list in Tweetdeck?” List can also be created in twitter itself and other applications have this ability as well.
  • If you are not on twitter at all, you can go to google alerts and use the realtime function. You can either search a term such as earthquake or tsunami or you can search hashtags if you know them, for example #eqjp or #HITsunami. You can pause the stream as well. If you are not a twitter user, this will also point you to other searches you might want to do, because people often include more than one hashtag in their tweets. The realtime function also includes updates from facebook as well.
  • The timeline feature allows you go back in time and there is a handy list of top tweets.
  • Update: another twitter friend @Metalerik told me that you can pause tweetdeck. (I didn’t do my homework.) From Tweetdeck’s support page:

“Pause a column

You can pause the updates in a column by scrolling down in the column so the top update is not visible. This will cause updates to queue up while you read your updates in the column. To allow the updates to continue again, just scroll back up to the top.”

3. People in harm’s way DO use social media to gain information.

I have heard response organizations and local government agencies bemoan their low number of “fans” during the preparedness phase. But, as I have said before: if you build it people will come–especially during a crisis. This was borne out again in Hawaii as a result of the tsunami. The FireTracker2 reported via twitter that the County of Maui saw a 700% increase in their facebook fans. You can see from the screen capture below that the community was grateful for their efforts.The counties’ page is really quite good, they had a wonderful series of pictures of county authorities rescuing a giant turtle that washed ashore after the tsunami. The community, luckily, received very little damage–and I think it turned out pretty well for the turtle too.

This is just a short list of what we are learning but we seem to be learning these same three lessons with each crisis. One last point: social media is not going away. If you are not a social media user, tap into the wealth of information out there and use this event as a way to learn how to monitor these new mediums. Hopefully, if you were on the fence about using social media for your response organization, this example will change your mind.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this crisis.

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