Data Framework

How do we start consuming crowdsourced data?

An organization looking to leverage crowdsourced information in their operations may have trouble identifying the first step to consuming this data. In this section we will assist you in building a framework that allows for the integrated use of both traditional and crowdsourced data. While the focus of this toolkit is on crowdsourced data, the steps below should also help you organize your traditional data and improve situational awareness in your organization. This section covers:

  • How to organize your situational awareness program using the Community Lifelines approach
  • How to identify Essential Elements of Information (EEIs) required to manage incidents in your organization
  • Tips and strategies to format the crowdsourced data collected for your EEIs to enable efficient information sharing
  • Existing tools & resources to enhance your information collection process

Community Lifelines

Community Lifelines are a construct for outcomes-based stabilization efforts. Simply, A lifeline enables the continuous operation of government functions and critical business, and is essential to human health and safety or economic security.

Each Community Lifeline contains two to six "components" which drill down to the Essential Elements of Information (EEIs) necessary for each.

FEMA has developed a Community Lifelines Implementation Toolkit to assist organizations in leveraging this framework. The Community Lifelines concept can assist your organization in organizing crowdsourced and traditional data to better inform overall incident situational awareness.

Organization and Breakdown of Each Lifeline

Example of Energy Lifeline, Components, and EEIs

What are Essential Elements of Information (EEIs) and how to identify them for your organization

The Community Lifelines construct helps the emergency manager organize their information collection and answer the overwhelming questions of:

  • What's the status of our critical services?
  • What happens if our critical services fail or are degraded?
  • What do I do to to get them back up and running?
  • Are there any obstacles we will face to get them back up and running?

Information is gathered through the use of Essential Elements of Information (EEIs). EEIs are key pieces of information an official needs to inform decision making. You typically can identify the EEIs for your organization will be before they are needed. When stakeholders come together and determine what information they will need to make good decisions in an emergency, the resulting list of information needs are known as EEIs.

If your organization has not already identified EEIs, the FEMA Community Lifelines Implementation Toolkit has provided a list of recommended EEIs to start with. Some of these EEIs may not be applicable to your organization and you may also identify additional EEIs unique to your operations. This resource is meant to get you started in the development of your list of EEIs. Working to develop EEIs collaboratively will identify common EEIs which may already be collected by your partners.

Lifeline EEIs

Information Collection Plan

FEMA has developed an Information Collection Plan process to determine the possible data sources and collection schedule to inform the Essential Elements of Informations (EEIs) and situational awareness products for decision makers. This template may be a helpful resource and logical next step after determining your organization's EEIs. The template is meant to be continuously updated throughout the incident lifecycle as sources change. Like the Community Lifelines & Essential Elements of Information concepts, an Information Collection Plan extends far beyond crowdsourced information but is a helpful resource prior to embarking on a crowdsourcing program. NOTE: Much of the language in this template is FEMA-centric. It is recommended you work with your team to customize this tool.

All-Hazards Response Plan Information Collection Plan
Information Collection Plan Template

Data Format & Interoperability

If your organization has organized its information collection process, and determined the Essential Elements of Information (EEIs) necessary to make decisions, you can move on to developing the format for data collection.

It is not uncommon for organizations to collect information during a crisis using a completely different format from a neighboring jurisdiction or partner agency. The middle of a crisis is not the time to try and make a significant change to how you are collecting data. If working with a Digital Volunteer Network or Tech Sector partner, determine if they can provide applicable crowdsourced data in a format that aligns with your traditional sources. After the incident, it will be important to determine if a data standard can be leveraged to collect data on your EEIs.

Spending some time with your stakeholders in advance to determine the approach for data collection, data format, data attributes, and data sharing methods will save you considerable time converting both crowdsourced and traditional data sources to a format that your organization will be able to use. A significant amount of time is spent during each incident working to deduplicate data entries and crosswalking data fields between various sources. There are a few approaches that can assist with advanced planning to reduce this unnecessary process.

  1. Does a data standard or model exist? If the EEI you are collecting information on already has a data standard that has been developed, attempt to record crowdsourced data using this standard format. An example would be the collection of community shelter data using social media. The National Shelter System is an existing standard to collect this information and is widely used by emergency managers at all levels of government. Even if all data fields are not used, ensure that the data fields that are collected align with the data standard. An effort to catalog existing data models can be found at FEMA Emergency Support Function Leadership Group's Model and Data Inventory. NAPSG Foundation has developed the Implementation Guidance on Information Sharing Standards for Crisis Management and Mutual Aid Technology as a as a simple guide on choosing the appropriate information standard for a given need, as well as, identify some key aspects for communicating that information between systems. Also take a look at the Tools & Resources page on this toolkit for links to other data standards & models.
  2. Have common status attributes been identified? The next common problem in leveraging crowdsourced data during an incident is the use of attribute data that does not align with traditional data sources. An example would be the collection of power status of long term health care facilities. If emergency management is collecting power status information based on a status of no power, generator power, commercial power, crowdsourced data sources should also collect data in this same approach. Standardizing the status attributes will assist in the comparison of traditional and crowdsourced data products. One resource to assist in developing status attributes for your EEIs is the National Information Sharing Consortium's (NISC) EEI Publication Guidance. While the included recommendations provide a good first draft of attributes, it is important to develop the final attributes based on your agency's requirements in conjunction with any stakeholders that will be using the data. More information on NISC's approach can be found on their website.
  3. Can the data be collected in an editable format? If it is not possible to leverage a data standard or common status attributes, the next best option is to share the data in a format that enables quick and automated conversion. One common pitfall for information sharing is the sharing of PDFs full of important data. A PDF does not allow for data to be converted into a format to compare traditional and crowdsourced data in the same tool or product. Work with a Digital Volunteer Network or technical staff at your organization to determine the best data format to share traditional and crowdsourced data among partners.
  4. Is it possible to enable real-time data sharing? One benefit of crowdsourced data is the dynamic nature of real-time changes and adjustments from the crowd and applicable sensors. In some cases it may be possible to obtain a fairly accurate picture of current conditions during an incident. To leverage this functionality, crowdsourced data should be provided in a feed or service that can be consumed in real-time through an application programming interface (API). Manual uploading or emailing of files can add an unnecessary lag in time to capture EEIs and increases the chance of misinterpretation when comparing live reports from the field with traditional and crowdsourced data.

NAPSG Symbol Library Tool

To better integrate the symbology of crowdsourced data with traditional data, organizations can leverage the NAPSG Symbol Library Tool. The NAPSG Foundation has been working with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to bridge gaps in incident symbols and the supporting frameworks required to achieve a common language for communicating incident information. They have been developing a consistent incident symbology framework, guideline, and symbol set for use at the incident level on maps and in GIS applications. The NAPSG Symbol Library Tool can be accessed here.

Crowdsourcing Considerations for EEIs

  • EEIs assist in the understanding the breadth of information requirements to ensure good situational awareness
  • Some EEIs are common across all actors involved in an incident. Identify which ones you can share to reduce duplication and promote unity of effort.
  • DO NOT RECREATE THE WHEEL - Use the FEMA Community Lifelines Toolkit, NISC, and NAPSG tools as a starting point in developing your EEIs
  • You may have many existing sources of information to maintain situational awareness (news media, reports from your volunteers in the field, official data from EOCs, etc). How can crowdsourcing inform existing gaps your EEIs?
  • Is the data publicly available or does it require a partnership? Establish relationships before the incident.
  • Crowdsourced data can be collected through a combination of Active and Passive platforms
  • Think creatively! What are some unique tools, platforms, and organizations that may have access to crowdsourced data related to the incident?