The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to engage the public more in disaster response by sharing data and leveraging reports from mobile phones and social media, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said today.
People are increasingly connected in disaster areas, and FEMA needs to factor that into its disaster planning, Fugate said in a keynote speech at ESRI's government user conference in Washington, D.C. As an example, Fugate pointed to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where rescue workers and survivors used text messages, e-mail, and social media to communicate amid chaotic and dangerous conditions.
FEMA is engaging the private sector and the public to determine how best to take advantage of open data, social media, and two-way interaction to improve disaster response. Fugate has met with Google, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter and other companies, and FEMA is using Challenge.gov to seek ideas more widely through crowdsourcing. The private sector and groups like Random Hacks of Kindness will be represented at FEMA's annual disaster recovery event this year.
For example, in its disaster recovery scenario, FEMA could ask retailers which of their stores are closed, then overlay that information on a map to provide food aid to areas where needed. It could also set up mesh WiFi networks to enable people who lose cell or Internet service to communicate using WiFi-enabled mobile devices.