Crisis Mapping and Crowdsourcing in Flood Management

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Quick Facts

Publishing Organisation:
Associated Programme on Flood Management (APFM)
Covers Thematic
  • Crowdsourcing Describes a distributed problem-solving model where the task of solving a challenge or developing an idea get “outsourced” to a crowd. It implies tapping into “the wisdom of the crowd”.</br></br>Source:DRS Glossary v2.0 LINKS 181220.xlsx
  • Technologies Software for interaction with, within or among communities in case of a disaster and for analysis of these interactions
  • Unaffiliated volunteers Spontaneous or unaffiliated volunteers are individuals or groups that:</br>*arrive unsolicited at the scene of a disaster</br>*may or may not be a resident of the affected community</br>*may or may not possess skills necessary to respond to the current disaster</br>*are not associated with any part of the existing emergency management system </br></br>Source:
  • Target audience
  • Practitioners Practitioners is a target group in LINKS which comprises local, national and European disaster management organizations, civil protection agencies, first responders, NGOs, security networks...
  • Audience experience level
  • Intermediate Those who currently use social media to communicate with the public and have developed a draft social media strategy, even if this is not thoroughly documented or communicated across the organisation</br></br>Source:
  • Disaster Management Phase
  • Before Comprises 'Preparedness Phase' and 'Prevention Phase'</br></br>Preparedness action is carried out within the context of disaster risk management and aims to build the capacities needed to efficiently manage all types of emergencies and achieve orderly transitions from response to sustained recovery.</br></br>Source:</br></br>Prevention (i.e., disaster prevention) expresses the concept and intention to completely avoid potential adverse impacts of hazardous events.</br></br>Source:
  • During Also referred to as "Response Phase"</br></br>Actions taken directly before, during or immediately after a disaster in order to save lives, reduce health impacts, ensure public safety and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected.</br></br>Annotation: Disaster response is predominantly focused on immediate and short-term needs and is sometimes called disaster relief. Effective, efficient and timely response relies on disaster risk-informed preparedness measures, including the development of the response capacities of individuals, communities, organizations, countries and the international community.</br></br>Source:
  • After Also referred to as 'Recovery Phase'</br></br>The restoring or improving of livelihoods and health, as well as economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets, systems and activities, of a disaster-affected community or society, aligning with the principles of sustainable development and “build back better”, to avoid or reduce future disaster risk.</br></br>Source:
  • Synopsis

    This tool addresses the needs of practitioners and allows them to easily access relevant guidance materials. The Tool is considered as a resource guide/material for practitioners and not an academic paper.


    • Crowdsourcing
      • The term crowdsourcing refers to a way of organizing the work, which involves an information system to coordinate and monitor tasks performed by people.
      • Moreover, this term can be understood as a production model where the intelligence and knowledge of volunteers are used to solve problems, create content and develop new technologies.
      • Volunteers performing a specific task, such as environmental monitoring, collectively make a citizen observatory (CO), where data can be collected, collated and published.
      • Currently, several crowd-sourcing platforms support disaster management, enabling the gathering of information from citizens about the affected areas, as well as their analysis and visualization
    • Citizen observatory
      • the term citizen observatory can be understood as a software platform for obtaining volunteered information about a specific topic through different devices (e.g. Web browser, mobile application and SMS) and allow their visualization.
    • Volunteered geographic information (VGI).
      • volunteered geographic information (VGI) means that geographic information is being produced by people who have little formal qualification.
      • Among the advantages associated with VGI, researchers emphasize its use to enhance, update or complement existing geospatial datasets.
      • Recent natural disasters have shown that volunteered information, provided through the Internet, can improve situational awareness by providing an overview of the present situation.
      • This is because VGI offers a great opportunity to raise awareness due to the potentially large number of volunteers – more than six billion people – who can potentially act as “sensors”, recording important parameters for disaster management in a local environment.

    Benefits and Potentialities

    • Magnitude
      • Compared to traditional media and the manner in which news is disseminated, social media are able to create a dense network of observers who are able to rapidly publish and share information.
      • This is a powerful tool for crisis communication.
      • The benefit of social media for crisis management is that it is created by a crowd and available to all.
      • Rapid sharing of information would not be possible without such openness
    • Flexibility and speed
      • Another benefit of crowdsourcing applied to crisis-mapping is its flexibility, linked to the speed of information circulation.
      • As noted, an important emphasis is today placed on flexibility in response speed, so that emergency responders can adjust their actions to changing demands.
    • Cheapness and optimization
      • An important feature of crowdsourcing applied to crisis-mapping is its cheapness. In fact, by using crowdsourcing, technical infrastructure, tools, and existing human resources are optimized on a large scale, with lower investments (e.g. for software and platforms) than those traditionally used in crisis-mapping
    • Accuracy
      • Accuracy is a further important benefit of crowdsourcing applied to crisis-mapping.
      • Actually, the information and communication technologies applied within the context of disasters allow for an exchange and reciprocity between those providing information and those seeking it.
    • Broader citizens/societal engagement and awareness
      • By engaging with various kinds of stakeholders, including government officials, local communities and organizations and the private sector, crowdsourced crisis-mapping helps to raise disaster awareness, increase the understanding of risk and encourage cooperation, thus strengthening the collective resilience and related action of affected communities in many ways
    • Solidarity action
      • Crowdsourcing, applied to crisis-mapping, also improves the actions of solidarity in favour of those most in trouble and who need special and urgent interventions.
    • Improved governance in areas of limited statehood
      • Information technologies – and crowdsourcing tools and platforms in particular – can help in filling the gap of the limited statehood, enhancing the available resources and interpersonal relations already existing at the local level


    • Data validity
      • Authentication of information is crucial because of the obvious risks associated with an unregulated stream of information, especially as it can spread misinformation rapidly online
      • There is the need for common and structured procedures for verification of submitted data.
    • Data quality and quantity
      • An open question linked to crowdsourcing applied to crisis-mapping is that of data quality and quantity.
        • Are data in a usable format?
        • How to manage a large amount of data?
    • Difficulties in forecasting events
      • A major limitation of crowdsourcing applied to crisis-mapping is its limited (for now) ability to forecast events.
      • If, on the one hand, crowdsourcing is effective in managing crisis situations as they occur, or immediately afterwards, this is not the case with regard to forecasting and preventing.
    • IT infrastructure accessibility
      • A further limitation of crowdsourcing applied to crisis-mapping is related to the digital divide and consists in that, despite the increasing popularity of mobile phones and the Internet around the world, there are, in any case, large segments of the population (especially among the poorest) that do not have access, or who have limited and intermittent access, to these resources, or through others.
    • Privacy, security and ethical concerns
      • In politically sensitive environments, building a set of trusted information sources may involve major security issues. It can seriously compromise the safety of the people who originally published information on social media.
    • Integration with other information collection systems
      • An important open issue for crisis-mapping today is the integration of new information and communication tools, used by crowdsourcing operators, into other “traditional” information collection systems, such as sensors and other surveillance systems

    Some tools

    • Ushahidi
      • Ushahidi allows people in any part of the world to disseminate and collect information about a crisis. Information can be submitted by users via text message, e-mail or Web postings, and the data are aggregated and organized into a map or timeline.
    • The projects of the International Network of Crisis Mappers
      • Crisis Mappers Net is the largest and most active international community of experts, practitioners, policymakers, technologists, researchers, journalists, scholars, hackers and skilled volunteers engaged at the intersection of humanitarian crises, new technology, crowd-sourcing, and crisis-mapping.
    • Sahana
      • This free and open source software project is supported by hundreds of volunteer contributors from dozens of countries, national and local authorities and relief agencies in their response to numerous large- scale and sudden-onset disasters
    • Google Crisis Response
      • Google Crisis Response organizes emergency alerts and news updates relating to a crisis and publishes the information on its Web properties or dedicated landing pages
    • International Charter on Space and Major Disasters
      • The organization provides for the charitable and humanitarian re-tasked acquisition of and transmission of space satellite data to relief organizations in the event of major disasters
    • Humanitarian Open Street Map Team (HOT)
      • HOT coordinates the creation, production and distribution of free mapping resources to support humanitarian relief efforts in many places around the world.
    • Water Detective application
      • Water Detective is a generic cross mobile application (app) used by citizens and professionals alike to report on all kinds of water-related problems. A user can select categories (such as flooding, dyke issue, etc.), helping the government become aware of (possibly) high-impact situations.

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