Crowd Crisis Management

When it comes to environmental sustainability, I felt that crisis management, in the area of natural disaster, really concerned the environment thoroughly especially through its mitigation and response efforts. These natural disasters threaten mankind, properties and mother nature herself through landslides, earthquakes, forest fires, droughts and more [1]. Two very prominent disasters that happened recently that harnessed the power of the crowd through technology was Haiti’s earthquake 2010 and Japan’s in 2011 [2]. 

In Haiti, an open-source crisis-mapping software called Ushahidi, allowed the user to obtain critical information coming from Haiti through important social media sites and text messages sent [3]. Through pooling information, emergency units could easily identify reports of people who were in danger, accompanied with all the relevant details such as time stamps, location, details, photos and more [3]. According to Ortmann J. et Al. (?), although this form of help was not fully optimised due to lack of integration of the world of crowdsourced data and the world of formal relief organization, crowdsourcing still played a large part in helping Haiti’s disaster managers make good decisions [2].


Interestingly, such crisis management modes allow governments to receive help on a global scale. Starting in Kenya, this software was developed and first used in Kenya’s violence crisis in 2007 [3]. During Haiti’s disaster, “digital humanitarians” from The Fletcher School in Boston helped to map and monitor millions of online sources 24/7 by identifying only the most important life and death messages [4].  


Pre-disaster: This tool has been mostly analysed on how effective it is during a disaster. I figured that this is especially useful in the mitigation phase. For example, if there are signs of a potential landslide that could cause the death of the commuters at the bottom of the hill, crowdsourced data could help governments more effectively mitigate and prepare for the disaster. 

During disaster:

“It is sobering to be reminded that one of the basic instincts of human nature—mutual cooperation for no cost—is thriving on a global scale.” (Keegan 2010)

  1. From a global perspective:
    • With this new mode of help, the world can go an extra mile instead of sitting hopelessly at home. (e.g. the Fletcher School)
  2. From a decision-maker perspective: Targeted disaster response
    • Ushahidi security reports allowed decision makers to get insights on the contextual factors of situations happening around Haiti.
    • For example:
      • Situation: People in Haiti were growing increasingly displeased and expressed that they are going to resort to violence.
      • Contextual Factor: No food aid and growing deaths.
      • Priority: Pushed to higher importance.
    • Expressed in this situation was the locals increasing impatience and helplessness that is leading to anomie. This shows that such crowdsourced data can help decision makers identify early signs of conflict that could break out too [3].


According to a survey on Haiti’s crisis management on using crowdsourced data, the top 3 issues decision makers are: uncertainty, filtering information and training volunteers to aid in utilising the data [5].

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 2.19.49 pm.png

Privacy of users: Not only were openly available tweets reviewed, private sms and emails were sources too. National Geographic was curious to know if there was any privacy threat and contacted a several lawyers to hear them out. In the case of Haiti and other humanitarian crisis, “Do No Harm” is a primary principle and this dictates that those exposed to all these information has can only use it for the good of society without harming the individual who released this information [4]. As such, breech of privacy in this way was not unethical given that it wasn’t used against individuals.

Verifying information: Due to the tragedy, people contributing to crowdsourced data tend to exaggerate on certain matters and decision-makers crack their heads to figure out how to best deploy their resources. A more comprehensive system needs to be developed to increase the probability of identifying the most critical situation out there. 

Lack of communication between government and other stakeholders: The extensive amount of data could possibly be wasted if stakeholders do not effectively communicate and use it in their strategic planning. Governments should develop an integrated flow of information even before disaster strikes to increase their rescue mission efficiency. 

The potential breakdown of a cities communication system: Crowdsourcing has been pretty impactful but most are dependent on a functional communication network that allows decision makers to extract information from. In a case of a severe disaster, communication powerhouses may be destroyed and the power of crowdsourcing will immediately become non-existent. Governments have to work towards improving both traditional crisis management modes while developing this new arm. 

Crisis management is a really comprehensive topic that has been well researched upon recently due to the multiple natural disasters globally. Crowdsourcing can truly help to minimise the impact of these disasters if it is integrated to government and NGO systems.


[1] Lerbinger, O. (1997). The crisis manager: Facing risk and responsibility. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

[2] Ortmann, J., Limbu, M., Wang, D., & Kauppinen, T. (2011, October). Crowdsourcing linked open data for disaster management. In Proceedings of the Terra Cognita Workshop on Foundations, Technologies and Applications of the Geospatial Web in conjunction with the ISWC (pp. 11-22).



[5] Morrow, N., Mock, N., Papendieck, A. Kocmich, N.: Independent evaluation of the ushahidi haiti project. Tech. rep., The UHP Independent Evaluation Team (2011)

Keegan, Victor. 2010. “Meet the Wikipedia of the Mapping World.” Guardian Unlimited.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s