EVENT: Crowdsourced Information for Disaster Management

We’re less than a week removed from an historic hurricane Irene and a perhaps even rarer East Coast earthquake. So for all of us, the vital role that first responders play in helping us figure out what’s happening and what we need to do in such instances is fresh in our memories. But it’s not just a job for the pros. Now even average citizens, armed with smartphones undreamt of by previous generations, have a role to play during man-made and natural disasters.

The worldwide response to the Haitian earthquake and Japanese Tsunami provided vivid proof that these technologies, and the citizens who use them, are playing an increasingly important role in emergency response and recovery. It’s difficult to overstate the significance of the sea change we’re witnessing.

Citizen-powered situational awareness was on display in dramatic ways. After these catastrophic events, Haitians sent SMS and text messages calling for help. Via the Internet, volunteers from around the world translated and mapped those requests. That allowed first responders and traditional relief organizations on the ground to incorporate this citizen-generated information into their planning and response operations. But new technologies come with strings attached in the form of new legal and policy questions.

In preparation for National Preparedness Month, the Woodrow Wilson Center and the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) Foundation co-hosted a panel discussion on “Liability and Reliability of Crowdsourced and Volunteered Information for Disaster Management” in Washington, D.C. on August 30, 2011.

Panelists: Chief Charles L. Werner and Captain Xenophon “Yo” Gikas

The event was moderated by Rand Napoli, Vice-Chairman of the NAPSG Foundation.  Panelists included:

  • Chief Charles L. Werner, Fire Chief, Charlottesville Fire Department, a 37-year veteran of the volunteer and career fire service who serves on several state and national public safety communications and leadership committees;
  • Captain Xenophon “Yo” Gikas, Captain, Los Angeles Fire Department, a 23 year veteran with the Los Angeles Fire Department who is currently assisting four technology interoperability programs having multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional impact;
  • Jodi Cramer, General Attorney for the US Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Office of Chief Counsel, who advises on FEMA’s web2.0 initiatives;
  • Deborah Shaddon, IT Enterprise Architect in the insurance industry and Core Team member and acting Infrastructure Working Group Lead for CrisisCommons, a volunteer and technical community of interest that provides support for disaster management;
  • Governor Jim Geringer, former Governor of Wyoming – Director of Policy, Environmental Systems Research Institute, who works with senior elected and corporate officials on how to use geospatial technology for place-based decisions in business and government;
  • Edward S. Robson, Esq., Attorney, Robson & Robson LLC, who represents volunteer fire and ambulance companies in a variety of matters, and has volunteered as an emergency medical technician since 2003 and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of a large suburban fire company.
  • Martin Valentine, Senior Manager, USAA Insurance, is an expert in loss mitigation and catastrophe risk management with more than 21 years of experience.

This event was the first in a series of monthly panel discussions, organized in collaboration with the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation and other partners, which will address the public policy challenges these emerging technologies present.

For more information about this event and to view the archived webcast, please visit our website by clicking here. This event also was broadcast by C-SPAN and is archived here.

To read a summary of this event, click here. You can find new coverage on this event by visiting Social Media Brings Out New Capacities and Liabilities to Crisis (NextGov, August 31, 2011).


Contributor Lea Shanley

Lea Shanley, Senior Associate, Science and Technology Innovation Program, with editorial support from John Milewski, Communications, Woodrow Wilson Center, and with special thanks to Rebecca Harned, Program Director, NAPSG Foundation, for her leadership and dedication.


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