Clarity and Humanitarianism amid the Noise – Crisis Mappers

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Patrick Meier QuoteChanging the World using Maps

From The Wall Street Journal:

“In disasters like the typhoon that slammed into the Philippines, sifting through a barrage of confusing and conflicting on-the-ground reports is one of the first problems facing rescue teams. Social-media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can make matters worse. All too often, users recycle what others have posted or retweeted without adding any fresh information.
Sorting through all the noise is too much for individual agencies to handle on their own.
So Swiss-born Patrick Meier (@PatrickMeier on Twitter) is gearing up to attack the problem with a new approach called social mapping: Using a combination of volunteers and algorithms to filter the chaos and to provide rescue teams with a detailed, data-driven map of what they should be doing, and where.”

Patrick Meier (PhD) (see video of Patrick’s TedX Presentation at this post’s end) is an internationally recognized thought leader on the application of new technologies for crisis early warning, humanitarian response and resilience. He presently serves as Director of Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute (QCRI) where he uses Data Science and Advanced Computing to develop Next Generation Humanitarian Technologies. He is a Rockefeller & PopTech Fellow, a UNICEF Innovation Fellow and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

He is also the co-founder of the Crisis Mappers Network, the Digital Humanitarian Network and the award-winning Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF). Prior to QCRI, Patrick co-founded and co-directed the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s (HHI) Program on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning and served as Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi, a non-profit technology company voted by MIT’s Technology Review as one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world alongside Facebook, Google and Twitter. Patrick is also an accomplished speaker, having given talks at the White House, World Bank, United Nations, Harvard, Stanford, the Skoll World Forum, Club de Madrid, Mobile World Congress, PopTech, Where 2.0, TTI/Vanguard, SXSW and several TEDx’s. He is a distinguished scholar, holding a PhD from The Fletcher School, a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship from Stanford and an MA from Columbia University.  Patrick authors the widely respected blog

“This is artificial intelligence disaster response,” said Dr. Meier, in describing the system, which is now helping the United Nations’ disaster-response agency respond to the unfolding calamity in the Philippines.

The idea is to use a software platform called MicroMappers to identify useful information through set keywords.

Volunteers refine the process further by noting, or tagging, to classify tweets according to their content, whether they are appeals for help, reports of property damage or shortages of medical supplies.

In future deployments, the platform will be developed further to “learn” what kind of material to seek out from the web.

Dr. Meier and the team at QCRI launched MicroMappers as the first ever set of microtasking apps “…specifically customized for digital humanitarian response. If you’re new to microtasking in the context of disaster response, it is recommended that you read and this, this and this. The purpose of the web-based microtasking apps called Clickers is to quickly make sense of all the user-generated, multi-media content posted on social media during disasters. How? By using microtasking and making it as easy as a single click of the mouse to become a digital humanitarian volunteer. This is how volunteers with Zooniverse were able to click-and-thus-tag well over 2,000,000 images in under 48-hours.”

Clickers screen-shot

Dr. Meier and the team developed and customized four Clickers using the free and open source microtasking platform CrowdCrafting: TweetClicker, TweetGeoClicker, ImageClicker and ImageGeoClicker. Each Clicker includes a mini-tutorial to guide volunteers.

Clickers in Action in the Philippines – MicroMappers Response to Typhoon Yolanda

As detailed in a post on the iRevolution website:

In terms of preliminary figures (to be confirmed):

  • Tweets collected during first 48 hours of landfall = ~230,000
  • Tweets automatically filtered for relevancy/uniqueness = ~55,000
  • Tweets clicked using the TweetClicker = ~ 30,000
  • Relevant tweets triangulated using TweetClicker = ~3,800
  • Triangulated tweets published on live Crisis Map = ~600
  • Total clicks on TweetClicker = ~ 90,000
  • Images clicked using the ImageClicker = ~ 5,000
  • Relevant images triangulated using TweetClicker = ~1,200
  • Triangulated images published on live Crisis Map = ~180
  • Total clicks on ImageClicker = ~15,000
  • Total clicks on MicroMappers (Image + Tweet Clickers) = ~105,000

Since each single tweet and image uploaded to the Clickers was clicked on by (at least) three individual volunteers for quality control purposes, the number of clicks is three times the total number of tweets and images uploaded to the respective clickers. In sum, digital humanitarian volunteers have clocked a grand total of ~105,000 clicks to support humanitarian operations in the Philippines.

Two Short Years Ago

From the 2011 Report Social Media and Disasters: Current Uses, Future Options, and Policy Considerations by Bruce R. Lindsay:
“The development of new technologies that have emerged since the mid-1990s has led to Internet-based applications known as “social media” that enable people to interact and share information through media that were non-existent or widely unavailable 15 years ago.

Examples of social media include blogs, chat rooms, discussion forums, wikis, YouTube Channels, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Social media can be accessed by computer, tablets, smart and cellular phones, and mobile phone text messaging (SMS).

In the last five years social media have played an increasing role in emergencies and disasters. Social media sites rank as the fourth most popular source to access emergency information. They have been used by individuals and communities to warn others of unsafe areas or situations, inform friends and family that someone is safe, and raise funds for disaster relief.

Facebook supports numerous emergency-related organizations, including Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM), The Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Project, as well as numerous universities with disaster-related programs.

The use of social media for emergencies and disasters may be conceptualized as two broad categories. First, social media can be used somewhat passively to disseminate information and receive user feedback via incoming messages, wall posts, and polls. To date, this is how most emergency management organizations, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), use social media.

A second approach involves the systematic use of social media as an emergency management tool. Systematic usage might include using the medium to conduct emergency communications and issue warnings; using social media to receive victim requests for assistance; monitoring user activities to establish situational awareness; and using uploaded images to create damage estimates, among others. Many of these applications remain speculative, while other uses are still in their infancy. Consequently, most emergency management organizations have confined their use of social media to the dissemination of information.”

Fast Forward Present and Beyond: The Crisis Mappers Network

From the Crisis Mappers Website:  The International Network of Crisis Mappers is the largest and most active international community of experts, practitioners, policymakers, technologists, researchers, journalists, scholars, hackers and skilled volunteers engaged at the intersection between humanitarian crises, technology, crowd-sourcing, and crisis mapping.

The Crisis Mappers Network was launched by 100 Crisis Mappers at the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM) in 2009. As the world’s premier humanitarian technology forum, we now engage 6,000+ members in over 160 countries, who are affiliated with over 2,000 different institutions, including over 400 universities, 50 United Nations agencies & projects, dozens of leading technology companies, several volunteer & technical community networks, and disaster response and recovery organizations.

Dr. Patrick Meier & Dr. Jen Ziemke are the Network’s  Co-Founders  &  Co-Curators.

Crisis Mappers leverage mobile & web-based applications, participatory maps & crowdsourced event data, aerial & satellite imagery, geospatial platforms, advanced visualization, live simulation, and computational & statistical models to power effective early warning for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies. As information scientists we also attempt to extract meaning from mass volumes of real-time data exhaust.

6,288 = Members of Crisis Mappers Network
3,000+ = Member Organizations/Affiliations (List) including 400+ Universities, 50 UN Agencies/Programs, dozens of leading technology companies, several Volunteer & Technical Community Networks  & Disaster Response NGOs.
162 = Countries where Members Currently Work
194 = Countries where Members have actively worked
1,955 = Members of Crisis Mappers Google Group
7,194 = Emails since 2009

Want to be a MicroMapper? Simply join up here. They’ll provide you with updates and let you know when humanitarian organizations need your support to make sense of social media reports following a disaster.

Read more about Patrick Meier at National Geographic and here at QCRI



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