Crowdsourcing the Disaster Management Cycle

Crowdsourcing the Disaster Management Cycle

Sara E. Harrison, Peter A. Johnson
DOI: 10.4018/IJISCRAM.2016100102
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Crowdsourcing is a communication platform that can be used during and after a disastrous event. Previous research in crisis crowdsourcing demonstrates its wide adoption for aiding response efforts by non-government organizations and public citizens. There is a gap in understanding the government use of crowdsourcing for emergency management, and in the use of crowdsourcing for mitigation and preparedness. This research aims to characterize crowdsourcing in all phases of the disaster management cycle by government agencies in Canada and the USA. Semi-structured interviews conducted with 22 government officials from both countries reveal that crisis crowdsourced information is used in all phases of the disaster management cycle, though direct crowdsourcing is yet to be applied in the pre-disaster phases. Emergency management officials and scholars have an opportunity to discover new ways to directly use crowdsourcing for mitigation and preparedness.
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The use of the Internet in emergency operations has opened up new opportunities for improving communication during a crisis. Over the past decade, crowdsourcing, that is the volunteer-generated, decentralized contribution of information online, has become essential to emergency response efforts, as citizens experiencing a crisis often spontaneously share information about current conditions (Burns & Shanley, 2012; Haworth & Bruce, 2015; Liu, 2014; Starbird, 2012). In this paper, the authors focus specifically on two broad approaches to crowdsourcing: active and passive. However, the literature contains a wealth of crowdsourcing typologies and approaches that are outside of the scope of this paper, but are worth noting (for a detailed review see (Brabham, 2013; Estelles-Arolas & Gonzalez-Ladron-de-Guevara, 2012; Hossain & Kauranen, 2015; Lauriault & Mooney, 2014). Traditionally, crisis crowdsourcing efforts take the form active crowdsourcing, in which specialized platforms and applications have been developed for users to actively contribute to a call for information (Loukis & Charalabidis, 2015; Tong et al., 2014). These platforms are usually developed and implemented by members of the affected public (e.g. Scipionus during Hurricane Katrina, the map-mashups during the 2007-2009 Santa Barbara wildfires) or by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) such as Ushahidi (Hiltz et al., 2014; Meier, 2012; Roche et al., 2011). The purpose of such platforms is to improve disaster response and resource allocation based on real-time reports from disaster victims that can be used to facilitate coordination with responders (Roche et al., 2011; Zook et al., 2010).

More recently, passive crowdsourcing via social media has emerged as a tool to communicate information in times of emergency (Charalabidis et al., 2014; Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). Social media is increasingly being used by both NGO’s and government emergency management agencies to determine public sentiment and reaction to an event (Bird et al., 2012; Flew et al., 2015; Fraustino et al., 2012; Laskey, 2013; Latonero & Shklovski, 2011; Lindsay, 2011; Taylor et al., 2012; Virtual Social Media Working Group and DHS First Responders Group, 2014). It is evident that the multi-directional flows of communication and information that crisis crowdsourcing online platforms facilitates can make response and recovery efforts more efficient and effective (Roche et al., 2011).

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