Recently, an open source project issued its first reports regarding a preliminary non-scientific analysis of the effects on the use of social media, crowdsourcing and crisis mapping played in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

This report should be interesting reading for all of our readers who study this topic, and how it might be updated and improved as a learning resource for the first responder, emergency response, crisis management and disaster preparedness team within their own organizations and communities.

 As we all now know, Hurricane Irene affected people from Puerto Rico to Vermont, and all along the way people tweeted, blogged, posted to Facebook, uploaded media via YouTube, pictures via Flickr, and comments via Tumblr (along with many other social networking sites).

As the writers of this report claim, “…this report will examine what role social media (SM), crowdsourcing (CS) and crisis mapping (CM) played for official agencies, the media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), digital volunteers and citizens, before, during and after the storm”.

There are many informative links to additional related events and occurrences which should be explored, and, perhaps, more importantly, this report should be viewed as setting some new milestones such as: (a) marking a turning point for the acceptance of social media by emergency management officials, certainly as an information tool, (b) proving again the resiliency of Social Media Platforms, even with massive power outages, particularly when accessed from mobile devices, (c) the fact that the use of key social networks was widespread by all segments of society impacted by the event: citizens, government agencies, volunteers, and businesses, and (d) that there were many crowdsourcing and crisis mapping efforts undertaken by virtual volunteers, including individuals as well as those by volunteer organizations.

Another distinguishing point raised in this report is that of the value of the free Ushahidi online mapping tool that was used to collect and plot reports coming in from people via e-mail, SMS and Twitter. Ushahidi was built amidst the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008 to document the trouble that was occurring at that time.  Since then it has been deployed in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Haiti, where it helped to plot thousands of reports, which were then used by organizations such as the Red Cross to co-ordinate their relief efforts.

At the end of the day, our staff supports the position(s) and objectives which the writers of the report so clearly state —“….the objective of this collection of facts was never to collate all such examples, but, rather, to demonstrate the new reality of empowered citizens and volunteers in disasters brought by mobile technologies and social networks.

This revolutionary trend toward the “age of social convergence” in emergency management, foretells of a future bright with closer collaboration between governments, agencies, volunteer organizations and ordinary citizens.”

Read this report and add it to the resource library of those risk management, disaster preparedness and PS-Prep strategy planning teams in your organization. 

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