Is the future of disaster response in hands of stewards of digital data, networks, platform?

LOTE4 is all about tapping into citizen-resources and reorganizing services to tap into peer-to-peer networks and assets.  Not surprisingly, when we feel lonely or isolated, are in immediate danger of flooding or some other disaster, or living with a long term medical condition it is help from friends, family and neighbors that we find the most helpful (this is why I think @Ben’s and Remy’s session on Future of Care in the Hands of Hackers? is the place to be at LOTE4)

Now imagine being able to mesh together all sorts of digital data- private sector ‘big data’ (telecom providers on how people user mobile phone); city’s data on urban planning, energy and water supply; citizen-generated crowdsourced data and tweets; digital platforms and networks that help organize and coordinate stuff like Uber and AirBnB.  In a way, it’s tapping into the growing infrastructure of a sharing economy to help citizens reduce risks before a disaster strikes and bounce back faster from its effects (one of the better write-ups I’ve come across is by Helen Goulden of Nesta, with h/t @gquggiotto, while Patrick Meier has been a source of constant inspiration).

As mentioned up top, we’re already seeing some of this in action.  San Francisco and Portland are working with AirBnB to strengthen city-level emergency preparedness, Rio de Janeiro  is trading data on construction projects, city events, road sensors and cameras on its highways for real-time data of popular travel and cycling apps- Waze, Moovit and Strava-  to do better traffic management and urban planning.  In FYR Macedonia, an initiative is looking at whether the mobile phone data can be used as a proxy for real-time disaster management.

So, a few questions that may be interesting to go through (would love to get comments though- adding more, vetoing some of these?):

  • Could we start a list of interesting digital data ‘stewards’ whose services and actions can be tapped into in emergencies?  
  • My 4-year old says that each time a particular boy in her school gets sniffles, the entire class is sick the next day.  So, if preschoolers can be an early warning sensor network for a flu epidemic, do we consider only digital data or the existing data that can be made available in a form that it helps better, faster decision making?
  • What nudges may get and keep these outfits playing ball?  In San Francisco, some AirBnB hosts will be trained to be first responders in emergencies in their communities- who wouldn’t want to stay at that person’s place, right?
  • Can or should this type of a process be engineered in a first place? After all, the examples we have (AirBnB, Waze, Moovit) took place without someone like UNDP getting involved.  On the other side, most of these cases are coming from countries where a lot of services are already working well- what about the less developed places?

Update based on Twitter feedback:

Date: 2014-10-25 13:30:00 - 2014-10-25 13:30:00, Europe/Brussels Time.

Relying on intl corporates vs boosting local networks & groups

I remember a conversation during a recent event in which a city Councilor from Amsterdam was in a session about "using the “sharing” economy to boost the city’s ability to deal with large numbers of additional visitors e.g. for events in the city. Sat next to this person was a representative from Airbnb in Amsterdam. Based on what the Councilor was saying it would seem that there were no local groups or organisations that they could collaborate with. I asked whether they had actually reached out to the actors who are already there and the and try to work with them the response was that they were very difficult to deal with: didn’t respond to public calls etc., the means at which the councilor had at their disposal to connect with and include local actors.

On the other hand, there was a younger person there, an activist, who had been trying to get the city administration to do exactly that…work with local groups but was finding it very difficult. For one thing, he stated,  the fact that many civil servants had indeed used services like airbnb privately when travelling biased them towards this service as opposed to some local small service that they had never heard of.

Resilience as I understand it is very much about people with complimentary skills and reach out into different networks and resources being in touch with one another and being reachable for others. It’s about a social fabric needing to be in place so people can respond quickly and self-organise. And the less that social fabric is dependent on certain corporations the better for many reasons imho. For one thing these companies can go bankrupt or be banned at any time. Some of the actors you name are especially dependent on friendly legislation and have started a lobby organisation, Peers, to try to swing legislation in their favour.

Also there is the question of data ownership and personal data sovereignty. I am accountable to a certain set of laws, but if the actors on which we make ourselves dependent are not this may cause a lot of problems.

You have reasons for looking to those kinds of actors first, can you maybe list what the advantages are as seen from your perspective?

1 Like

Came across this article that may be of interest

“Smart Cities should mean Sharing Cities”:

And crisis mapping, and more

Great session proposal, I’ll surely join in. Some additions that come to mind:

Crisis mapping is a rather well-known way of citizen-driven disaster response. It’s work done by, for example, the Standby Task Force, involving for example crisis mapping for the current Ebola outbreak. And for the IT world’s own variety of disasters, there is also a collaborative computer security incident database.

Another interesting new citizen tool for disaster response is Peacekeeper, “an organization that builds and advocates voluntary systems of emergency protection”. They have an app which kind of is like a 911 call to your neighbors. While that is clearly tainted by US “rightwing nuts”, I find the concept interesting and relevant.

Regarding the sensor-integration that you have in mind, the closest thing I know is GDACS (you’ll probably know it too, it’s a UN / EU project). Take something like this project, add case information about epidemics and diseases, and allow citizens to add all other incidents (like place and date of robberies when travelling etc.), and we’d have a system that allows informed risk assessment for everyone, everywhere by querying that database. There would be no need to rely on blunt statistics anymore, which are just aggregates of such data. To my knowledge, there is no system aggregating all spatial risk data so far, esp. not on a global scale, but clearly there should be :slight_smile:

Personally I would love to see a network of citizens and their resource being able to do disaster response on their own. A network is uniquely apt, since it has many redundant links that can take the additional load when a disaster disrupts part of the network. Say, a family might be able to take in a second family who lost their home in a flood for half a year or so, it just is not a comfortable permanent situation.

I’m just not happy with central entities like AirBnB taking a role in this (from all central entities, companies I trust the least). So yes, I advocate an engineered “disaster-response network” of citizens, and would like to gather other people’s hints and tips about what is already there and how to build it.

Curator’s note

Now a note from curator’s perspective (which Amelia and I happen to be for this track - Amelia may want to add a complementary note).

This is a more explorative / innovative session, which is totally fine. It just means we will not be able to generalize and document solution methods for digital assets, as we would else intend to (see). But as the linked writeup also shows, the digital assets track also focuses on policy implications of stewarding digital assets. Now disaster response and other tasks of citizen protection are traditionally tasks of the state. Taking in private sector actors like AirBnB, and “the crowd” of citizens, will lead to interesting new policy challenges. Did these emerge already? Did best practices (“solution patterns”) emerge to deal with them?

Cool feedback, thanks…

So much both @Nadia and @Matthias!

@Nadia, agree with you that focus should be on people vs. corporate giants- it’s about a crowd!  What i like about the AirBnB story is that based on a request from one of the hosts, the company hacked itself to allow free rendering of places in case of emergencies.  Now, as hosts get community disaster management planning - this is going to stay with them, with the individuals and their neighbors, friends, etc- irrespective of whether AirBnB is there or not. So, one of my questions i suppose (and as you see, this is a very much thinking-on-a-go type inquiry) is how can we tap into these digital platforms, some of which may be corporate (AirBnB) and some arent (Open Street Map), work with citizens who take part in them in order to prime them to react when a disaster strikes.

@Matthias, love the Peacekeeper app- haven’t seen it before, thanks for sharing! You asked a question far more elegantly than I have- what does it take to have a community do disaster management on its own, and what role can digital assets play in it? 

Your comments seems to have led to few more people joining the session :slight_smile: i wonder though if there is a way for me to crash several other sessions (using online tools to map/serve/render visible offline communities and designing for water stewardship) and still catch Nadia’s session on learning to learn about the future.