You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Crowdsourcing Disaster Response Via Social Media and SMS

BY Lisa Goldman | Monday, August 27 2012

Patrick Meier has written two blog posts that illustrate with concrete examples how social media and SMS are allowing grassroots and ad hoc groups to distribute relief supplies and disaster zones.

The first details how Iranian volunteers crowd sourced relief and bypassed the state, delivering the state to stricken regions on their own.

In the second post, How Civil Resistance Protests Improve Crowdsourced Disaster Response (and Vice Versa), Meier opens with a description of how Filipinos crowd sourced disaster relief via SMS, MMS and social media during the recent flooding in Manila, the capital. In the case of the Phillipines, Meier explains, the disaster relief was coordinated via an existing network that was first activated during the 2001 protests that led to the ousting of then-president Joseph Estrada.

Meier goes on to list several more examples of grassroots, ad hoc efforts to bring disaster relief supplies to stricken regions around the world - e.g., southern Russia during the floods, northeast Iran following the recent double earthquake and Egyptians who brought convoys of relief supplies to eastern Libya during last year's uprising against then-president Qaddafi.

In each case, the network and means of recruiting volunteers and coordinating the distribution of aid was via networks that were already in place — created as a means of civil protest.

Meier ends his first post with the following:

Of course, this phenomenon is hardly new. First responders, by definition, are the disaster affected population themselves. What is new is that these people-centered crowdsourced efforts are increasingly public and easier to coordinate thanks to social networking platforms and mobile technologies. “In Iran, where the state is involved in all layers of society, it is exceptional for a group of young people to organize a public effort of disaster relief” (New York Times). As I have hinted in previous blog posts, this ability to mobilize, organize and coordinate can have important political ramifications.

He reminds his readers of this again when he points out that the Pakistani government's failure to provide timely and adequate relief the devastating Cyclone Bohla in 1970 proved to be an important trigger in the war of independence that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

And that, Meier points out, was a long time before SMS existed.