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Web 2.0 + Emergency Management = Emergency Management 2.0

The silent revolution(s)

A silent revolution is going on at the moment in the area of emergency management. During the Tsunami 2004, Hurricane Katrina or the recent earthquakes web user has disseminated information even before the TV channels and have created a lot of content contributing to disaster relief efforts. They have organized the search for victims or displaced persons over the net or have delivered whole software applications to support relief operations. This marks an important change which emergency management practitioners has to take into consideration. When I look back to my own training as mission commander for disaster relief operations more than fifteen years ago the focus was very different: How to react to victims in panic? How to get information from shocked people by questioning them? These were the challenges we were trained for in order to improve the situational awareness in a disaster area in the first hours after an incident (the chaos-phase).

In parallel the world of disaster management organizations is changing tremendously from within. Thought leaders in public security have understood that organizations in public security need a new paradigm how to support the management processes: these organizations have a strong need for an overall IT platform to support their operations. Just one example could illustrate this: If an incident like a fire takes place with dozens of injured people with burnings today the coordination of the transport of these victims is a nightmare for the commanders-on-scene. Most of the countries in the world have no country-wide register how many treatment places are available at the moment. The use-case described was the starting point for Switzerland to build up a countrywide disaster management platform.

A (first) definition of disaster management 2.0

As the revolutions are still underway it is a bit difficult to define the meaning of disaster management 2.0 completely. But the patterns are quite clear:

Disaster management 2.0 means a combination of common emergency management platforms for the different actors in disaster management with Web 2.0 applications containing content created by normal citizens and victims of a disaster. These new solutions will increase the interoperability between the different actors and the situational awareness (and therefore the speed of countermeasures) at the same time.


6 Predictions for the next five years

Based on more than discussions and interviews with disaster management executives and practitioners 6 predictions have been identified:

1. Web 2.0 trends will become much more common for public security organizations over the next five years in order to dissemeninate information quickly to the citizens

Many people shift their focus from the medias they have been used for years to Web 2.0 applications and create content by themselves for this social network applications. Therefore they also expect public authorities to provide information via these channels. Police forces, firefighter and other first responders need to meet these expectations and the use of twitter-like applications for example will become more and more common. Alerting will become more and more important in this respect. After 1989 a lot of the alerting functionalities like sirens have been thrown away. Using social networks to spread the information about upcoming incidents like a moving chemical cloud after a fire could help to alert the population in the future. A impressive example is the Los Angels fire department which already uses Twitter today to inform about every incident they have to master.

2. Web 2.0 information will contribute tremendously to the situational awareness after incidents and disasters in the future and will be recognized by the commanders

After incidents like floods or earthquakes it is very difficult for the commanders to get a clear picture of the situation in the affected area. How many people are affected? How many old or disabled persons are staying in an area that needs special treatment? Where are huge assemblies of survivors located? The combined information of all the tweets, blogs and other sources of information can increase the level of accuracy tremendously. Moreover the commanders will use these information more and more as younger people are entering the workforce who have grown up with the internet and who are using these applications in their private life as well.

3. Public authorities will provide Web 2.0 features on their emerging security platforms helping to aggregate information from Web 2.0 applications like Twitter and using these applications internally

A single point of information is crucial for the emerging emergency management platforms. Today these are mainly information about ressources, contact information and damage reports from disaster relief forces. Information from twitter-like application will enhance the situational picture. In order to support this task the SAP Enterprise Search will be used heavily in order to find out the relevant information as no staff member will have the time to read blogs or follows tweets.

4. ESME could play an important role in combination with the SAP emergency management platform

Emergency management practitioners are risk-averse by nature. Therefore they will be sceptical how far they can trust the information they got from citizens via the web which are not belonging to responder forces. Therefore an application like ESME could help to overcome these doubts by managing the ad-hoc formation of citizens reporting information and exchanging knowledge.

Besides that ESME could also help to manage the interaction between the citizens themselves as people could exchange information in a trusted environment (“Our street has still electricity. You could come over and use it) and they do not have to search for information distributed about several websites.

5. The separate disaster management systems for the different authorities and private companies will converge

Corporate security departments are building up security platforms in a similar fashion as the authorities do. They also use Web 2.0 technologies for security purposes. In many cases they have an advantage as they are already using these applications for their business anyway. But the concepts of corporate security have changed over the last years. They cannot concentrate their activities on countermeasures against localized threats (e.g. fires) any more. New threats scenarios like a pandemic have made clear that the incidents have a new quality and that enterprises and public authorities need to work more closely together. This includes an interoperability of their security platforms.   

6. Software projects like Sahana will use the public security platforms as their backbone for information

Open source applications like SAHANA can contribute to the disaster relief efforts. Therefore interoperability with security platforms from the government is crucial in order to exchange information like ressource availability. Double entries of data which is already available in the systems could be avoided.

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  • Thanks for the shout out Bernhard. One of the key features of ESME is that is that it is ‘opt-in’ only. That means you only invite the people you wish and can drop them if required. For most business networks, that will work extremely well because none of us want ‘conversations’ cluttered with information we don’t need or which we don’t find valuable.
    • Thanks for the feedback Dennis. This feature of ESME makes it so compelling for the emergency management use case. I am quite sure that we will soon be able to convice thought leaders in the emerging emergency management projects to use ESME.

      Best regards,