Crisis Catalyzes Collaboration


I spent the weekend working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the National Response Coordination Center. It was surreal, hundreds of people plugging away at their computers, screens across all the walls, breakout rooms. It looked a lot like a CrisisCamp or the Standby Volunteer Task Force. What was amazing is that the FEMA folks embraced this, they called for crowdsourcing, and they called for mapping, they were asking, “What can the crisis commons do for us?” Developers from around the country jumped to the task, trying to solve problems such as figuring out what gas stations were open, and where charging stations had been set up, and then communicating that back to the feet on the street. One citizen created a crowdsourced map for gas stations and had high schools students from New Brunswick New Jersey, who couldn’t go to school, volunteering to verify the data and load it up onto the map. They made all their data open and easily downloadable, and in less than 20 minutes we had their data in the FEMA database and being used to organize a federal response. Twelve hours later we had that map pinging to Google Maps as well.

I tell you this because it is a pretty incredible example of citizens and government working together, something that is often hard to accomplish. There are still many barriers and hurdles sitting in the middle of the road, but the highways of communication and organization are beginning to open.

Increasingly, as crisises hit, the data managers, the information librarians, the programmers play some of the most important roles. They will help to coordinate not just people, but information flows.


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