Colloquium: The future of community-based hazard information systems

Posted on June 17, 2009  /  3 Comments

Dr. Gordon Gow presented the working paper titled; The future of community-based hazard information systems: Insights from the Internet sharing economy.

Dr. Gow who was previously at the LSE is now an Associate Professor at University of Alberta.

The presentation began by looking at situations where systems/programmes are developed but only to fall to disuse. The focus will be on the last-mile. The presentation looks at the long term viability of a system. Financial resources are eimportant. The need to tap everyday communicative acts was also highlighted. The need to move beyond a narrow scope of early warning. As investment in last mile systems fall, the vulnerability increases. The cycle continues. The need for more moderate investment was stressed.

If the vulnearbilities of the local communities are reduced then their ability to eliminate or mitigate the disaster increases. This over time leads to risk reduction.

What role does community media play in hazard warning?

The stages of disaster management cycle were introduced as mitigate, prepare, response and recover.

Technologies with local contributions and variety of technologies were discussed. A differentiation was made with the ‘cult media’ such as twitter. Peer to peer was recongised as the best in terms of emergency communication. A lot of this is going on already, in examples such as California wildfires. The idea of crisis informatics was also introduced. The idea of effective use was stressed. The importance of local knowledge and participation for effective use.The UN has similar ideas about warning to risk reduction.

Three related ideas was introduced. Early warning linked to disaster risk reduction and for it to be sustainable the effective use of ICTs should be done.

The need for knowledge sharing was stressed leading from talking amongst community members about risk reduction.

3 stories were highlighted.

story 1 was highlighted the creation community based hazard warning system. Successful but long term sustanance is in doubt. An example of community media bridging communities and the global media.

Story 2 on bridging the generational gap. In Andaman and Nicobar island, it was stories passed down for generations as folklore that saved lives. But there are risks due to false positives. However, it is an example of informal early warning over time. An inter-generational warning system.

Story 3 is on bridging both space and time. An individual who heard about the news 1000s miles away, called village elders and an emergency evacuation plan was put in place.

The road to disaster resilience needs both time and space and hence relationships. The importance of social capital in sustainability hazard warning systems.

The importance of the sharing economy was highlighted. 3 insights were identified as being necessary for the sharing economy  to work.

How does this work? The need for tools for sharing is necessary, phone calls, texting, pictures. Looking at the Haz Info project, mobiles were the most popular. Specialised technology maybe abandoned. Use of everyday technology will lead to better sustainability. These tools need to be given to the community.

The need to respect diversity was highlighted. Allow community members to spend little or more time as they want. A selfish motivation can lead to collective value eg: tagging pictures on flickr, but the tag is now available for everyone.

3rd Insight was identified as the need to build open systems. Allowing people to create and share as they wish.

Standards for information sharing is necessary for this, as in open application interfaces and non propriety licensing for the building of open systems.

The success stories from 2004 tsunami highlights the need for relationships across space and time. Importance of Social capital.

Local risk mapping was also introduced. A pilot in Vietnam found that ownership of the system to the community leads to long term sustainability.

The presentation concluded with idea that a successful strategy needs to go beyond early warning. Time and Space in terms of relationships is key. The findings of the 2004 Tsunami need to be shared.
Ms. Helani Galpaya asked if there is example on the disaster world that related to this concept. Dr. Gow replied that he idea was to look at the overarching aspects.

Prof. Rohan Samarajiva asked if flickr the best example of this concept or is it open source. The reply was Open source.

Dr. Gow in response to a question said that the emphasis in more on sharing economy as opposed to social media. The idea behind the concept is to understand what makes people share knowledge and build relationships that go beyond technology.

RS: The central argument of the concept is around sharing Economy.

Comments by RS: In Sri Lanka, most activity in open source is through payment. The platform maybe open source but people do not contribute willingly. In order for the sharing economy to work, other aspects such as infrastructure and other economic aspects may need to be in place. The sharing economy is more visible in more economically developed countries.

Community sharing will be more relevant some hazards as opposed to others.

Response from GG: Where hazards are likely to often, the systems are likely to work better. If government supply of hazard information is scarce, then community based solution is what will work. Eg: Call from a mobile. The more the community is used to sharing information about slow onset disasters, the better the community is prepared to deal with the situation.

Comments by RS: Sarvodaya may have data on this. Communities will do it if there is stimulus from outside. Salaried staff will be needed to provide the stimulus.

GG: Agree with the idea that stimulus is needed for community sharing. The need for the community to see the value of disaster preparedness is important. In a system where the hazard knowledge is not provided by the government, where does one go?

RS: In Sri Lanka we have examples of community based activity however, we seems to have difficulty in channelling it to productive purposes.

TW: How do we convince people (first responders) using two-way radio to use the internet? Demonstrating the value of the internet. With new digital generation this might not be an issue in the future.

NW: What can replace ‘internet sharing economy’?

RS: Issue between private and public goods.

HG: Examples of sharing traffic information on radio.

RS: The examples are there, village knowledge sharing will work. But the sharing economy in terms of the economy may not work in Sri Lanka.

RS: The catalyst in the form of salaried employees will be needed to tell the community to work on its contingency plans.

GG: The idea is to ensure that this method (sharing economy) to benefit all areas rather than just hazards.

RS: It is possible that this maybe happening in some of the villages as seen during the haz info projects.

DS: The knowledge sharing is already happening among the village. Why not piggy back on that?

GG: Yes if possible.

RS: So how do we find these people who already have system to share knowledge between villages?

DS: Systems already in the health sector at local government level.

RS: Will the system be sustainable?

DS: Recongnition acts as motivationas there is personal gain. Identity brings about value. Can that replace money value?

RS: However in order for the system to work there would be a need for money at some level.


  1. This evening I took part in the colloquium at LIRNEasia in Sri Lanka via Skype from Canberra on “The future of community-based hazard information systems: Insights from the Internet sharing economy” presented by Dr. Gordon A. Gow from University of Alberta. Some comments below, more on my blog at:

    He argued that we should look beyond early warning at preparedness. He suggested social media with Twitter type technology could be used, but has to be planned for, not used as a “heroic intervention”. CAP was discussed. I note that Twitter for emergencies, CAP came up at the royal commission yesterday. The term “Crisis Informatics” was mentioned. The “last mile” is where the greatest challenge is. Dr. Gow argued that early warning should be linked to risk reduction.

    Dr. Gow also suggested that social relationships could improve the quality of warning systems and social media could improve this. He asked what makes online communities successful, so this can be applied for emergencies.

    There was some time spent defining terms like “hazard” and “disaster”. My web page about “Emergency Web Page Design for Local Government” covers some of this. Also my “National Bushfire Warning System: Micro-blogging for emergencies”is relevant.

  2. Check out the latest World Disasters Report 2009 on Early Warning and Early Action. LIRNEasia has been cited:$file/ifrc_world_disasters_rpt2009.pdf?openelement.