How your information can be quickly & widely distributed in a crisis
Individuals and organizations (e.g., government, nonprofit, schools, utilities) with information important to the public during times of crisis (e.g., transit information, power outages, shelter lists, and weather paths).
Why take these actions:
When a crisis strikes, you’ll want to get information out to the public as quickly and broadly as possible so that people can take action. Unfortunately, a lot of technical and organizational challenges arise during times of crisis that get in the way of these goals: large volumes of traffic crash websites, people duplicate work, and data gets lost in the shuffle. These following tips will help you prepare your technology to stay up in times of crisis and make it possible for others to access and distribute your information.
Review this checklist with your Information Technology (IT) staff or technical service provider/s:
- Ask that in a time of crisis your websites can be quickly converted to only show static content in order to reduce server load, or the work your machines need to do, to handle spikes in website visitors during events.
- Work with your IT team or vendors to develop a backup plan for website to handle any large increases in traffic.
- Set up social tools to rapidly inform the public about new information during a crisis. Build your subscriber base by including your social media property information in your communications (websites, blogs, etc.). Update your social media pages regularly so people get used to relying on you for certain types and quality of information.
- Arrange for multiple staff members to be trained on these tools and have an organization-level login for the accounts in case the regular account owner is unavailable.
- Data Publishing: Publish all critical information on your website using these tools and standards:
- Web feeds, such as Really Simple Syndication (RSS), make it quick and easy to update your content and to send those updates to interested parties who subscribe.
- Open standards, like Keyhole Markup Language (KML) or the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), are better than posting only PDFs on your websites. Although PDFs enable people to take the information offline, they also increase the load on your servers and make it difficult to easily re-share or combine your data with other information to create more useful visualizations. PDFs also do not work well as well on mobile devices, which are highly utilized during crisis events. Failure to use open standards may result in duplication of work, or delays in achieving your goals.
- Structured files that conform to widely known open standards like Extensible Markup Language (XML), Comma Separated Values (CSV), and JavaScipt Project Notation (JSON) allow other individuals or computer systems to understand your information, and automatically ingest and share it. By publishing the content in a way that can be easily mapped or converted by a 3rd party provider, everyone benefits.
- Open and sharable licenses, or those considered public domain (copyright-free), permit other groups to quickly consume the data without worrying unnecessarily about licensing issues. Otherwise, people might not re-distribute your content for fear of not having the rights to do so. Mark your licenses clearly on your website and in the files you publish.
- Time stamps let those consuming the information know how old the data is and when it was last updated so they can decide whether to re-share the data.
- KML format enables your geographic data, such the location of shelters or the movement of storm paths, to appear on certain geographic Google products like Google Earth and Google Maps, and to be shared across many mapping tools on the web.
Free Google Tools:
These products can help you implement the checklist above. Give them a try.
- Google Fusion Tables allows you to host, analyze, collaborate on, and present huge amounts of data through a tool that updates automatically. This works for both geographic information that you can turn into maps, and other types of information that you can turn into charts and tables. It can handle a large number of visitors accessing your information at the same time, reducing the chance your information will go down in a crisis.
- For simple maps, with only a few points, you can create a custom map in Google Maps. This feature also allows easy collaboration and sharing.
Hurricane Irene, Vermont, USA: After Hurricane Irene passed New York, it made its way across Vermont, dropping massive quantities of rain, overflowing many rivers and streams. Many roads and bridges were washed out or damaged, and numerous towns were totally cut off. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) kept close track of the status of state roads and bridges as they were repaired, but their web infrastructure was ill-suited to meet the high demand brought on by the crisis. In order to adjust to this heavy volume and disseminate critical information to the public, VTrans published a KML feed of their road and bridge status data, and made it available through a Google Maps Application Programming Interface (API) based map which was easily published on the VTrans website, as well as the websites of other state agencies and news outlets. Thousands of citizens in Vermont benefited from the information on this map.
Thailand and Southeast Asia Floods: In the fall of 2011, Thailand and South East Asia were grappling with their worst floods in 50 years. Heavy monsoon rains had left more than 500 people dead, and 9 million people affected. As soon as there were signs of an approaching disaster, UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), at the request of the Asia Pacific Development Center (APDC), created maps showing flooding areas across the region, and collected georeferenced photos using the Android apps GEO-PICTURES. This information was published in KML so it could be accessible and widely distributed. Google team members helped them publish the information using the Google Maps API so that they could embed their data, along with contributions from other individuals and organizations such as photos, roads closures, shelter locations, photos, donation centers data, on a Google Map within their website. They were then able to disseminate this to a broad audience by announcing it via email, podcasts. blogs, press and social media to relief organizations and residents. Using these open tools to integrate flood & relief information from various sources resulted in more accurate information and a wider distribution during a time of need.
Links for more information:
These references describe the technologies discussed above to get you started on implementing them.
- KML - Keyhole Markup Language
- XML - Extensible Markup Language
- CSV - Comma Separated Values
- GeoRSS & RSS - Really Simple Syndication
- CAP - Common Alerting Protocol