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Part 2: Hybrid 2.0 – Leveraging Citizen Engagement for Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

In my previous blog post, Hybrid 2.0 – How to leverage social media for emergency management and response, I discussed two existing models for the use of social media in open government:

1. For use in public communication and collaboration: communication among citizens and with the public, leveraged by government agencies and non-profit organizations like Crisis Commons

2. For use in the enterprise: secure communication between agencies, with employees, etc.

Again, the need for an additional model, what I am now calling Hybrid 2.0, remains increasingly clear for communication relating to public safety, including preparedness, response, and recovery. Further discussion with my friend, Hal Grieb, Senior Emergency Management Specialist for the City of Plano, Texas, brought me to this blog post.

Non-profits like Crisis Commons, Ushahidi, and other crowd sourcing data collection efforts are proving extremely helpful in leveraging citizen engagement to gather data both for daily use and in emergencies. Additionally, their respective visualization tools are making it easier to understand trends and gather situational awareness surrounding specific issues and events. The success of projects like these is a direct result of the increasingly popular concept of collective intelligence and open source technology.

I believe the emergency communications landscape can be divided into three main stakeholders: the citizen, public systems, and government. Each stakeholder pulls and pushes data and information through a variety of channels and for a variety of reasons, specifically:

The citizen: Leverages public tools including social media, websites, SMS, etc. to communicate with other citizens, to gather information from public systems via publically available visualization tools, and to report to the government via 911, 311, or other government-provided reporting systems.

Public Systems: Operated by non-profits, non-governmental organizations, etc., public systems provide a means for collecting and aggregating information and data while simultaneously providing results via visualization tools that are openly available on the internet and through social media.

Government: Communicates internally through closed and/or proprietary systems for official response while communicating with the public via social media and more traditional alert/notification systems like the Emergency Broadcast system, sirens, email lists, SMS, etc., and collect/aggregate data for the purposes of response via 911, 311,etc.

While each stakeholder leverages different tools for different purposes, the intended outcome is often one in the same: communication and education (preparedness), situational awareness, response, and recovery.

Now imagine if emergency organizations, whether government or non-government, could leverage the data collected via crowd sourcing from both citizens and public systems, for use in situational awareness, preparedness, response, and recovery. Furthermore, imagine if by partnering with public systems, government agencies could identify and correct misinformation faster than before while using fewer resources (see Real Live Misinformation In Action – Oil Spill Rumors). The implications of doing so are so great that I believe it is now necessary to develop a paradigm from which to model future public-private partnerships in emergency management.

Again, in developing such a paradigm, I must address the associated challenges:

1. Veracity of content;

2. Resources required to manage data collection and analysis;

3. Resources required to authenticate collected data and resulting analysis;

4. Security of information leveraged for official response efforts;

5. Integration of awareness, alert, and notification communication channels;

6. A lack of policy addressing the implementation, management, and maintenance of all of the above.

To successfully address each of these challenges, an additional layer is necessary; one that bridges government and non-government efforts by supporting each. This is the Hybrid 2.0 model.

The Hybrid 2.0 model must combine internal solutions, behind a firewall for internal communication and operations, while simultaneously integrating and leveraging external, public solutions for outreach and communication. Additionally, the Hybrid 2.0 model must include data that is collected both via official and public channels. The Hybrid 2.0 model must provide a means for authentication and verification of all messaging and data collected from public systems, to ensure that all data collected is accurate before analyzed and disseminated.

Should the Hybrid 2.0 model become an additional stakeholder, or simply a collaborative effort between two or more existing stakeholders, only time will tell? In the mean time, I believe government agencies will begin to utilize crowd-sourced data and publically available visualization tools more and more. The value of the data is far too great to ignore.

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Dannielle Blumenthal

Hi – very interesting and I am especially interested in the “veracity of content” question.

Also, what are your thoughts on countering those who seek to provide false information solely because they are hostile to the government or have some other motive for diverting crisis communication efforts away from fact?

Regards – DB

Sara Estes Cohen

Dannielle, Thanks for your comment!

The possibility of someone providing false information can occur via traditional communications channels. The implications of Hal’s point about the noded system seems sounds very promising as well; I believe that crowd sourcing may serve similar functions; the more times the same data is collected (i.e., mentions of an earthquake, or fire, etc. from multiple Twitter accounts at the same time and around the same GPS location), the more likely it is true. Of course this data can be swayed (as when many people on Twitter changed their location to Tehran during the election riots). But again, I think there is truth in numbers; all response efforts require some type of verification.

I see this verficiation step as potentially served by an additional stakeholder/partner, etc. to take the work out of the hands of the government agency; perhaps by authenticating a partner, the government could then trust the information provided (much like trusted websites or certification/accreditation works)?

Dannielle Blumenthal

Twitter verification seems like a positive thing but then again they’re not verifying time-sensitive information, only the identity of the poster. When info is breaking 24/7, how do we slow down long enough to verify?

Sara Estes Cohen

Yes exactly – the more people are involved the more likely information can be verified (e.g. the philosophy behind Wikipedia). Additionally, if agencies pre-qualify certain partners to serve as “official verifiers”, their input could be leveraged more quickly and in addition to the community of active (and trained) users, like CERT.

John Contestabile

couldnt agree more…how to leverage social networks is a huge ongoing debate in the EM community right now [as well as the DOD who are learning how to execute a humanitarian aid mission — aka Haiti]…Happy to take this conversation off line as my work has involved investigating both open source tools [such as Ushahidi as well as Sahana, which you did not mention] as well as architecting systems that bridge behind the firewall to social media…the bottom line is: it will happen as these tools are becoming too ubiquitous to ignore!