Every day, tech-minded citizens across the country are doing good by their communities, literally geeking out about how they can help re-define the relationship government has with its citizens, using technology as a democratic tool to collaboratively empower both.
So much is happening in the civic technology community – website redesigns, new websites, open data initiatives, apps, camps, developer contests, hackathons and more – it’s hard to get a perspective on or truly appreciate the collective work of these dot-dogooders both inside and outside government.
CiviGuard founder Zubin Wadia discusses Crisis Management 2.0 and how his company is working to change communications during an emergency.
What is ‘Emergency Communication 2.0?’
In a nutshell, it’s near real-time location-aware communication between a citizen and its government during an emergency. EC 2.0 systems are an order of magnitude faster than SMS/Voice based solutions due to them leveraging the power of Internet-scale delivery platforms optimized for smartphones and connected devices. They are also extremely resilient, capable of delivering valuable information to the citizen even when networks fail completely. Lastly, they are social network aware, enabling citizens to assemble relief teams and share resources during times of adversity. Trust, timeliness and transparency are the three tenets of EC 2.0.
What is the problem with civilian emergency communication today?
Most offerings today are focused on mass notification over as many information channels as possible. While this successfully raises awareness about a situation, it also raises confusion amongst citizens. Additionally, these solutions don’t take a citizen’s location into account or have a way of additional messages as a situation changes. Lastly, they are all SMS or Voice based leading to multiple dependencies across the communication loop and not enough redundancy. Just take the Times Square bomb threat that occurred recently, instead of cops in the perimeter yelling at people to move out of the danger zone, we could have sent targeted updates to their smartphones creating a friction-free evacuation. We got lucky that day. If that device would have gone off, there would have been absolute chaos and that same evacuation process wouldn’t have worked.
How did CiviGuard form?
We were born out of Singularity University – a program sponsored by NASA and Google to cultivate future technology leaders. About 1,200 students applied for 40 slots in 2009. For our team projects at the end of the program we were given one mission: positively impact the lives of a billion people in a decade. Our team chose to tackle the area of disaster response and zeroed in on the area of emergency notification, crisis reporting and real-time communication. That set the mission for CiviGuard: to build leading-edge technology platforms for the protection of human life in times of crisis.
Why is optimizing for smartphones a viable strategy?
The Nielsen Company predicts smartphones to outnumber feature phones by the third quarter of 2011. That’s not accounting for millions of connected devices leveraging WiFi such as the iPod Touch. By the end of 2011 – we expect the US to have 200 million connected devices and smartphones operational. Additionally – the most populous cities in the US already have smartphone adoption rates that are far higher than the national average – San Francisco and New York City for example are greater than 60% already. For those who haven’t migrated to smartphones, SMS and voice will remain sub-optimal ways of receiving emergency communications.
Just noticed this contract solicitation submitted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a ‘professional media services company with experience and reliability in the deployment and delivery of professional broadcast transmission equipment and crews to various locations … used during pre- and post-declared federal disasters to support the OEA in its mission to prepare and disseminate information to the public.’
Having an outside contractor be heavily responsible for this role detaches the agency from its mission-critical work. I can understand services related to training and establishing processes that can then be left for agency employees to execute, but on-call assistance? Long-term or crisis-related social media and outreach should be the agency’s core focus.
What do you think?
From the solicitation:
FEMA’s OEA requires on-demand services of a professional media services company with experience and reliability in the deployment and delivery of professional broadcast transmission equipment and crews to various locations throughout the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealths of Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. These services are used during pre- and post-declared federal disasters to support the OEA in its mission to prepare and disseminate information to the public.
The contractor(s) will be responsible for working with FEMA personnel to produce and deliver pre- and post-event information, including public communications, through national and local news media, agency social media efforts, and situational awareness support of: the Agency Administrator’s Office, senior leadership, the Disaster Operations Division (to include the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) and all Regional Response Coordination Centers), Headquarters, Regional Offices, Joint Field Offices, Transitional Recovery Offices, Long Term Recovery Offices, and other DHS/FEMA facilities.
CrisisCamps are efforts by local communities to garner the collective skills of volunteers, particularly technology related, to support relief efforts during crises, such as natural disasters. Crisis Commons is the supporting organization whose mission is “empowering global citizens to save lives through technology.” Most recently, CrisisCamps have been active in supporting relief efforts following the earthquake in Haiti. Here’s an overview of CrisisCamp, CrisisCommons and how you can connect and get involved.
About Crisis Commons:
CrisisCommons is a grassroots organization that facilitates partnerships and maintains a network of technology volunteers to respond to specific needs in times of crisis. People work on projects based on their skills and interests to create technological tools and resources for responders to use in mitigating disasters and crises around the world.
We are an international network of professionals drawn together by a call to service. We are developers, specialists, communicators, first responders, project managers, and people who just want to help! We focus on neutrality, transparency, and collaboration and believe in the power of one person, and collaboration with others, to make a difference.
When thereâ€™s a crisis or a need for us to respond, we come together for action. Our events are called CrisisCamps. It is an individual event with an overall purpose to better understand crisis response needs, and to create specific tools for specific problems. CrisisCamps may happen in multiple locations at the same time. The world is connected â€“ we are connected.
DisastersMap is a tool using information on earthquakes and storms sourced from data.gov (in expectation of more sources). This map also displays in real time tweets on natural disasters due to the Twitter API and shows location of the members of the U.S. Congress interested in natural disaster-related problems (using the Capitol Words API).
The map enables you to tweet a disaster using your Twitter account.
All data on earthquakes is sourced from the USGS (United States Geographical Survey) and the NWS (National Weather Service).
Display of the earthquakes all over the world based on data.gov
Display of different quake magnitudes
Sorting out earthquakes by intensity
Display of the storms in the USA based on data.gov
Real time tweets on earthquakes and storms
Browsing by date with a timeline
Display of the last 10 most powerful earthquakes in the world
Localization of the members of the U.S. Congress interested in natural disaster-related problems (using the Capitol Words API)