Learning from Earthquakes: First person reports


Competing information, complementary information, coordinating information

March 17, 2011 by
Filed under EERI Team Field Blog, Social Impacts

The use of social media in disaster is often described as “drinking from a fire hose.” For those tuned in to social media , who monitor information flowing freely from citizen reporters on the disaster-affected streets, there is often so much information flowing that it is incredibly difficult to identify relevant and actionable data that can be turned into “intelligence.”

On the flip side is the perspective of the local public, looking for information that will enable them to make decisions about protective actions such as evacuation and sheltering. Under the traditional media strategy, information flows slowly, sometimes only two or three times a day. People perceive this as an information dearth just as they become all the more hungry for accurate and trustworthy information. At this very time, in the absence of information, local community members are turning to sources online. Similar to those emergency managers who are “drinking from a fire hose,” members of the public are faced with an overwhelming set of information sources such as websites, weblogs, major media, and social media networks (to name a few), some of which are authoritative and many of which are not. Without a central, authoritative site members of the public must make serious evaluations about which information will lead to their decision making and actions.

Throughout this short week of information gathering in the field, I’ve noticed that while there is the appearance of competing information sources, they have the potential to serve as complementary sources at varying points of disaster response. For instance, volunteer technical communities that mobilize resources early on aggregate and map information from the crowd. This is a complementary activity to those serving in official capacities that are responsible for critical infrastructure and emergency response. There are other examples that also show this complementary nature of efforts that may or may not duplicate data sources, but serve specific populations and needs at varying points of the response.

Key to the potential success of this kind of complementary effort is likely to be intentional actions to collaborate across organizations and to invite new partners to the table. Such collaborations have the possibility to strengthen communication processes, to increase trust, and to ensure that people are directed to verified information from which they can make informed decisions.

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One Response to “Competing information, complementary information, coordinating information”

  1. Crisis data, from and for impacted communities. « idisaster 2.0 on March 21st, 2011 10:29 am

    […] Jeannette Sutton wrote a brief article about what they are finding in New Zealand regarding the use of social media and data in general in […]

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