CB2: QR Codes for Crisis Response

What is that goofy-looking barcode to your right, you ask? It’s called a QR (Quick Response) Code and it can store over 4,000 alphanumeric characters in this two dimensional black and white image. Think of it as a cryptogram or cipher readable by mobile devices. The one displayed here for instance actually reads, “GovLoop is awesome.
QR Codes are big in Japan and… in Manor, Texas – a town of 6,500 people where Asst. City Manager Dustin Haisler has become a Gov2.0 celebrity for his use of technology. Take this QR Code pictured on a Manor park fence. It actually contains a link to the park’s history where you could learn that it’s named after one of the first settlers in the area, Jennie Lane, who had nine children.

How do you create a QR Code? There are a host of QR Code Generators out there that allow you to type in your text (including URLs) and it will instantly make one for you. We at GovLive have one that you can use for free. Give it a whirl here.
How do you read a QR Code? Most smartphones (including iPhone, Android and Blackberry) offer cheap QR Code Readers in their app stores that use your phone’s camera to snap a picture of the code and instantly tell you what it says. My personal favorite is QuickMark (for 3GS).

QR Codes for Crisis Response
The uses one could conjure up for QR Codes are endless, and I believe they will play a major role in crisis response. I’ve brainstormed a few here (Photoshopping #1 and #2) and even went as far as inventing a use this morning for Cleanup (#3) just for today’s blog.
1. Asset trackingWhat is this shipment of relief supplies? Where did it come from? Who is it meant for? All of these questions could be answered ahead of time and stored on single QR Code affixed to a pallet of supplies. In disaster-mode we never assume having a connectivity/comm, making the storage of information ON the code as opposed to having to look it up remotely is huge.

Reads: 12 cases of canned food from Miami for Port-au-Prince

2. Evacuee tracking – When evacuees are issued IDs prior to boarding a bus or entering a shelter, think of how much additional data you could store about that person on a QR Code sticker affixed to their badge. Again, no comm link would be necessary to look up their details. It could all go directly on the badge.

Reads: Departed El Paso 04:12. Arrived Houston 13:50. Cannot locate guardian.

3. CleanupHas anyone cleared that house yet? Who’s on that fallen telephone pole? Is this car abandoned? Think of all the information you could attach to various disaster cleanup issues directly in the field with or without connectivity. A cleanup worker could make notes on an issue then print and stick them right on it. Anyone coming by in the future can scan the code, access that information, and even add more to it. By assigning a unique ID to each code, every issue could become synchronized in a central database to see its status in real-time.
For today’s CB2 my developer Ilya Orlik and I created a Qrisis Response (QR) example for Disaster Cleanup, illustrated below. Sorry, the pun is awful I know.

My Qrisis Response (QR) Experiment
So here’s how it works – watch the video or read this description that follows. There’s an old door in our alley that we’ll treat as a disaster cleanup issue. All I have to do is take a picture of it with my mobile phone, email it to GovLive, and then I get a QR code back that we’ll print in the field using a Polaroid bluetooth label printer and stick it to the door.
Now I or anyone else can go online and instantly see the issue. Anyone else that walks by this door can scan the code and retrieve all that information as well. (We didn’t have time to build this as an app on the phone, which would eliminate the need for email connectivity, could attach my GPS location to the event, and make this even cooler).

URL referenced in move: http://govlive.com/qr/1002.html
Pretty neat, huh? I’ll have a link to try this yourself later today. So those are some of my ideas on QR Codes could help with crisis response. What about YOURS?

Website of the Week: Scan to Restore the Gulf

It’s a little hokey, but Sandra Bullock wants you to scan this QR code to sign a petition to “Demand that a plan to restore America’s Gulf be fully funded and implemented for me and future generations.” I’m highlighting it because it demonstrates how a little creativity + QR can result in something cool for disaster response.

Read Last Week’s CB2: Twitter Fast Follow for Crisis Alerting.

About Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett is a self-proclaimed emergency management innovator who is trying to make government better by improving citizen preparedness and crisis communications. He’s a graduate of Wharton with a master’s from Harvard with in “Technology, Innovation, Education.” His portfolio of companies and former projects include OneStorm Hurricane Preparedness, ReadyTown, GovLive, TexasPrepares and America’s Emergency Network. Chris was the recipient of FL Governor Crist’s 2008 Public Information Award. He lives in St. Petersburg, FL, loves to fish, and has been spotted sharing a pint with GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler in Tampa.

What does CB2 Mean? “Chris Bennett’s Crisis Blog.” It was originally CB Squared but the superscript 2 never took, so now we’re rocking the big 2.

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Dustin Haisler

Hey Chris! Awesome blogpost! QR-codes have many possibilities in government. Another example is SeeClickFix (http://www.seeclickfix.com), who allows users to generate a QR-code flyer for all reported issues. We should chat about this in more detail.

Martha Garvey

Love this. Animal rescue during crises could be so much easier. Rescue the animal from the abandoned house, note the address on the sticker, put sticker on cage, so much easier to reunite animals with owners.

Chris Bennett

Thanks Dustin, and excellent idea, Martha! There are a so many possibilities for this technology in the disaster space. Oh, and did I mention that PoGo printer in the video is only $42 at Wal-Mart? Pretty sweet.

Stephen Peteritas

Maybe this is just the way my brain works but I could totally see mischievous kids going to town with QR codes and not in a productive way.

Chris Bennett

I’m with you, Stephen. It did cross my mind to stick a QR code in a bathroom stall 🙂 I think what you’re talking about is putting a false one on top of the original… which would probably go unnoticed for a little while. Just don’t let me see you at the next GovUp with this tatt.

Martha Garvey

Hey, Chris: I talked about this with an NYC crossing guard this morning, and she was very interested in sharing the usefulness of this with the parents at her school. Where should I point her?