Monday, 6 May 2013

Free software helps with emergency response

Free software helps with emergency response, Emergency managers, businesses, organizations, and other entities need to understand the positive impact that the growth of social media brings. Facebook now has over one billion users while Twitter has over 140 million users (http://expandedramblings.com). Not only is this a free source of small advertising, it is a great tool for emergency managers and local governments to get the word out about emergencies and potential hazards.

One of the drawbacks could be the fact that too much information is flowing too fast. It could be hard to keep up with all that information. Not all that information may be true or it may be outdated. Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company, has stepped in and developed a unique system to help with this problem. The software, Swift River, is built on an open source web and mobile platform, and it is free. It gathers information from various sources such as Twitter, SMS, email, and Facebook, and then takes that information and compiles it into an easily readable mapping system. The greatest thing about this is that anyone can easily access this information and they basically build the data for you.

After a terrorist bombing attack in Mumbai, this system was utilized to map where people were located, whether they needed help or not, where help was located, and various other information that helped victims, family, and emergency responders respond to the situation. This proved invaluable as the phone lines were congested and roads were clogged due to massive amounts of rain. People shared this information, and added to it, in real time with the help of social media (http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/07/online-crisis-management).

We know that citizens are the first people on the scene during a disaster, and they use multiple forms of media sharing platforms. Emergency Managers can integrate these platforms with apps that can simply be customized and downloaded on mobile phones, giving a potential tool to everyone in your community. Emergency Managers would then have important information moving in real time with the help of citizens. They then could send out updates, food and water locations, and various other important information to all those in need.

Social media has proven to be a terrific source of information in times of disaster. Christchurch, Haiti, Japan, and many other disasters had responders, victims and family of victims share and gather information through social media outlets. This has proven to be extremely useful in incidences where phone lines are jammed or down all together. The CAUSE Resiliency (West Coast) Experiment project in 2011, was done in collaboration between the United States and Canadian governments, simulated an emergency response that used and integrated this type of technology and showed its worth (http://blog.ushahidi.com/index.php/2011/11/29/cause-for-simulations/).

This experiment demonstrated the value of this type of technology. This technology is the wave of the future as previous disasters have shown that Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media will quickly guide the flow of much needed information. If this type of technology was utilized during the Colorado theater massacre, movie patrons could have noted instantly to officials that there was only one shooter, where he was located within the theater, and possibly other information. The authorities would have probably been able to act much faster than they did. If emergency mangers ignore this technology, they would be doing their community an injustice.

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