Research Initiative: How Crowdsourcing Can Benefit Disaster Operations
Crowdsourcing, or using the power of the Internet and social media to “virtually” bring together large groups of people in support of a cause or event, has successfully been used to help emergency responders during disaster management. Recent examples include the disappearance of Malaysian Flight 370 in which satellite imagery was made available to the public and opened the door for potentially thousands of individuals to study the imagery and look for clues about the fate of the missing airliner. Crowdsourcing also helped first responders identify destroyed structures during the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado and the 2013 tornadoes in Oklahoma.
I am currently conducting research on the use of crowdsourcing during a disaster as a way to mobilize resources in support of recovery operations. I am specifically exploring the idea of how can crowdsourcing methods be used in support of the incident commander during response operations.
To help understand this issue better I had the opportunity to interview several senior leaders from the Colorado Department of Homeland Security as well as academics who are part of the Department of Homeland Security Center’s of Excellence, in this case the Center for Visualization and Data Analytics. As a researcher, it was extremely interesting and rewarding for me to interview the academic theorists as well as the practitioners who eventually benefit from the theory and technology developed by the theorists.
While I have not yet completed the final analysis, some obvious trends are beginning to emerge. Most importantly is the fact that crowdsourcing and social media are valuable tools for disaster managers and they can, and have, saved lives. The technology already exists to crowdsouce portions of disaster management and is a wonderful tool in the management of volunteers and donations. The issue of trust is another prevalent theme emerging in the research and trust is defined as being able to quickly analyze and verify the incoming information and assigning a resource in response.
I am really enjoying this research as I find the topic fascinating. As someone who rarely uses Facebook and has never used Twitter, I am quickly learning the importance of social media and how it can be used for so many different things. I will have the opportunity to present my findings at the International Disaster and Risk Conference later this year and will continue writing about it as my research progresses.
About the Author: Dr. Mark Riccardi is an Associate Professor and Program Director for Homeland Security Studies at American Military University. He recently retired from the United States Army after 21 years of active duty service as a military intelligence officer. The last half of his career was spent in homeland security operations and Defense Support to Civilian Authorities. He helped create and later command a Weapons of Mass Destruction Team that responded to terrorist use of Chemical, Biological, and Radiological weapons and later served as the Director for Military Support Operations within Colorado. He finished his career working as a liaison officer for United States Northern Command. He has a Ph.D. in Education from Colorado State University, a Master of Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College, a Master of Criminal Justice from Boston University, and a Master of Education from Colorado State University.