Zain Asghar

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Smartphones, Disasters, and Knowledge Management:
An Examination of Field Data Collection, Analysis and Dissemination

Abstract

GLOBAL RESPONSE AND RELIEF EFFORTS TO THE 2011 JAPAN EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI, AND THE 2010 HAITIAN EARTHQUAKE HAVE ILLUMINATED THE NEED FOR NEW COLLABORATIVE MODELS TO FACILITATE EFFECTIVE RESPONSE TO INTERNATIONAL CRISES AND CONFLICTS. INTO THE LIMELIGHT, THE RELATIVELY NEW PHENOMENON OF “CROWD SOURCING”, DEFINED AS THE ACT OF OUTSOURCING TASKS, TRADITIONALLY PERFORMED BY AN EMPLOYEE OR CONTRACTOR, TO AN UNDEFINED, LARGE GROUP OF PEOPLE OR COMMUNITY (A CROWD), THROUGH AN OPEN CALL, HAS EMERGED. AS WITNESSED IN RECENT YEARS, DISASTER RESPONSE MEASURES DRAW A CROWD CONSISTING OF A WIDE DEMOGRAPHIC POPULATION, OFTEN COMPOSED OF A MYRIAD OF CIVILIAN, MILITARY, LAW ENFORCEMENT, RESCUE WORKERS, WORKING SIDE-BY-SIDE WITH PEOPLE REPRESENTING GOVERNMENT AND NON-GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS SPANNING THE LOCAL, STATE, NATIONAL, AND INTERNATIONAL LEVEL. THIS CROWD IS OFTEN EQUIPPED WITH MOBILE TECHNOLOGY (SMARTPHONES). THIS FACT, COUPLED WITH THE AVAILABILITY OF CELLULAR AND WIRELESS COMMUNICATION NETWORKS, HAS INCREASED THE SPEED AND QUANTITY AT WHICH INFORMATION ABOUT A DISASTER SITE AND THE RESULTING HUMAN SUFFERING REACHES THE REST OF THE GLOBE.

The relief efforts in Japan and Haiti emphasized the need for implementing knowledge management practices to more effectively leverage the sheer amount and corresponding proliferation and dissemination of data attributable to crowd sourcing. The challenges presented by the increased need for knowledge sharing and collaboration across a non-homogenous crowd with potentially widely varying culture, language, expertise, and priorities is readily apparent. Incompatible data often renders disaster site data unusable or requires too much time to convert for the crowd – which includes first responders - to effectively use and share.

The United States sponsors a variety of disaster management and response conferences, events, and workshops aimed at fostering a dialogue pertaining to communication interoperability, data sharing, command and control, knowledge management, and so forth. Many of these venues are slated in the Pacific Theater and include locales such as the Philippines and Nepal. The author of this paper is part of an inter-agency team to deploy smartphones into the hands of first responders in order to collect, analyze, and share disaster related information in near real-time amongst decision-makers and other stakeholders at these multi-national gatherings.

It is in the best interests of the U.S. and partner nations to render assistance as quickly as possible following a disaster in order to prevent post disaster suffering and to establish civil order before criminals or terrorist organizations are able to take advantage of the situation. To accomplish this, knowledge management practices must integrate crowd source data to inform and enable decision-makers to effectively and efficiently respond to crises. The first vital few days could mean the difference in preventing undue loss of life.

1.0NATURAL DISASTERS, SMARTPHONES, AND SOCIAL NETWORKS

“KNOWLEDGE IS EXPERIENCE. EVERYTHING ELSE IS JUST INFORMATION.” - ALBERT EINSTEIN

A natural disaster is defined by the United Nations as “the consequences of events triggered by natural hazards that overwhelm local response capacity and seriously affect the social and economic development of a region.”[1] The 2010 Haitian earthquake relief effort has illuminated the need for new collaborative models to facilitate effective response to international crises and conflicts. The relatively new phenomenon of “crowd sourcing”, defined as the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call. As witnessed in recent years, disaster response measures generate a crowd potentially with a...
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