Sensors and Crowdsourcing for Environmental Awareness and Emergency Planning

Sensors and Crowdsourcing for Environmental Awareness and Emergency Planning

Soon Ae Chun, Francisco Artigas
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2012010106
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This paper proposes a participatory open environmental planning framework where environmental monitoring, environmental awareness and response planning combine high-tech sensors and “crowdsourcing” (with humans serving as a kind of sensor) to shift environmental planning away from government-centric planning. The authors present a prototype system of an open platform that has been initiated at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission as a shared service for the regional municipal governments’ environmental emergency planning and response. It includes modules such as ocean surge flood alerting, air quality and water quality alerting, citizen incident reporting, forums and citizens’ volunteer resource sharing. Sending notifications to mobile devices and merging distributed sensor measurements with observations from the field to create a higher level of awareness about the local environment may be the beginning of a more effective way to solve long-term environmental problems.
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Natural and man-made disaster planning and management is a critical component for urban emergency planning to minimize the impact on public safety, human and property losses, economic losses, and ecological damages. The ability to monitor, alert and mobilize to plan and manage the emergencies in highly populated urban area is an important aspect of “smart” urban planning.

Low-lying, densely populated coastal areas subject to hurricanes and other storms and to man-made pollution in the form of traffic and industrial-related emissions, sewage effluents and waste dumping are particularly in need of environmental monitoring and warning systems to plan rapid response in case of disasters or continuous exposure to the environmental hazardous materials. The planning for natural and man-made environmental emergencies has the following characteristics:

  • The affected areas often encompass large areas administered by different local jurisdictional authorities.

  • The planning requires all potential affected local governments and local first responders to have adequate alerts for the potential disasters.

  • The planning and management of disaster response require near real-time situation awareness of affected areas and affected population.

  • The response planning and management should ensure that the required resources are available and delivered in the right amount to the right place and to the right people.

In other words, the disaster planning requires coordination of multi-jurisdiction responders and local authorities, effective communication and information sharing for situational awareness, and identification of resources (equipments, vehicles, evacuation sites, experts, etc.). To coordinate a large-scale disaster, local governments and responder teams traditionally form a regional committee and coordinate regular face-to-face meetings and/or virtual telephone conferences with one other to discuss and design contingency plans that can be executed in the response to actual events, and to participate in the drills to make sure the operating procedures can be smoothly followed according to plan. This group of representatives from local governments and responder units may make important planning-related policy decisions based on the lessons learned from the historical events and current situations.

This traditional planning paradigm is a government-centric solution where the planning procedure and decisions are made mostly by government entities. This paradigm has been changing toward an online planning paradigm (called e-planning) where the planning documents, forms and applications are accessible and shared via the Internet to facilitate the collaborative planning activities during recovery. However, with the explosion of social media, the e-planning paradigm now includes concerned citizens as active participants who can not only receive the planning results but also participate in contributing information to enhance the situation awareness. They can also provide public input to evaluate the proposed and existing response plans. We will call this emerging planning paradigm a “participatory e-planning,” or an “open e-planning.” The key to open e-planning is citizen participation that is in alignment with the Open Government Directive by United States Government to increase transparency and to promote collaboration and citizen participation (Orszag, 2010; Obama, 2009; Chun et al., 2010).

In this paper, we propose an architectural model for an open environmental emergency planning (in short, open environmental planning or participatory environmental planning) based on a multi-dimensional data model that represents data from crowdsourcing as well as from environmental sensors to enhance the environmental hazardous situation awareness and response planning. Parts of the proposed open e-planning model are implemented to a regional environmental planning government agency in New Jersey called New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) to provide flood, air quality and water quality alerts for 14 related municipal governments. We describe and show how the situation awareness has enhanced with weather, water quality and air quality sensors, and how management of disasters may improve with citizens sharing their expertise and resources.

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