Integrating Crowdsourcing

Integrating crowdsourcing products into an existing organizational structure

Credit: DHS SMWG

The Incident Command System (ICS) and Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) have flexible and scalable structures that enable the integration of crowdsourcing. Just like traditional and official sources of information, crowdsourcing data needs to part of the information management system in your ICS/EOC structure. DHS's From Concept to Reality: Operationalizing Social Media for Preparedness, Response, and Recovery outlines several structures that can be used interchangeably for crowdsourcing and social media. Use your business case to determine where best to put crowdsourcing in your structure, aligning with existing duties of a section or position. The key to deciding the appropriate location for the integration of Crowdsourcing in your organizational structure is dependant on how situation information currently flows to your decision makers.

Staffing Considerations

As you progress on your crawl, walk, run method to building a crowdsourcing capability, a designated Crowdsourcing role is needed to serve as the program manager. At the crawl stage, the Crowdsourcing role can be a collateral duty for emergency management staff. At the run stage, a full-time Crowdsourcing position is ideal. This person will serve as a focal point for Digital Volunteer Networks, technology sector partners, and other crowdsourcing entities.

Consider existing positions that align with the crowdsourcing skill set to include Geospatial Information System Specialists, Information Technology, Public Information Officers, and Situation Unit Leaders. All positions are good candidates to coordinate the crowdsourcing function for your organization. While technical skills provide value to the position, it is more important to identify a candidate with experience coordinating many stakeholders (including volunteers) and knowing how to best leverage the resources of highly specialized services and organizations. Remember to cross-train personnel as it is likely your organization will need staffing depth to during multi operational period incidents.

Two National Qualification System (NQS) positions most closely aligned with the crowdsourcing role are Situation Unit Leader and Public Information Officer. The FEMA Resource Typing Definitions and Position Task Books can be utilized as a foundation for training and exercising this role.


EOC Skillsets

Another approach to qualify your crowdsourcing personnel and ensure they are prepared to perform their incident responsibilities, is to use FEMA's National Qualification System EOC Skillsets. With the EOC Skillsets, you can choose which of the 17 skillsets or combination of skillsets are most appropriate to assign to the crowdsourcing role. Applicable Skillsets could include Coordination and Individual Contribution, Leadership, Action Tracking, Public Affairs Coordination, Resource Sourcing, Situational Awareness, and Understanding the Resource Requirement.


Approaches for Integrating Crowdsourced Data and Traditional Data

As with your traditional sources of information, your organization should develop a process for consuming and using crowdsourced data. Consider how you want to display crowdsourced data so users of the information understand the source. By using traditional, commercial, and crowdsourced data, emergency managers can form a more complete picture of the incident.

Four Recommendations for Crowdsourced Data Integration

  1. Develop a strong data validation process
  2. Be transparent with the source(s) of crowdsourced data
  3. Use common data attributes and data standards
  4. When possible, develop products & tools that allow the opportunity for decision makers to compare traditional & crowdsourced data in one location
Cartoon of a student with crowdsourced homework

Synchronizing Crowdsourcing Activities

During disasters, there will be simultaneous efforts to crowdsource for situational awareness. Just like outbound public information from multiple stakeholders can be coordinated through a Joint Information System and/or Joint Information Center, information gathered from crowdsourcing can be coordinated with government agencies at all levels, non-profit and private sector to reduce duplication of effort and increase information sharing.

The FEMA Crowdsourcing Coordination Unit activates as part of the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC) at FEMA Headquarters. Coordinators work to connect Digital Volunteer Networks (DVNs), emergency management agencies, voluntary organizations, and the private sector. During activation, FEMA hosts a daily coordination call with all responding organizations. The FEMA Crowdsourcing Coordination Unit can be used as a resource when the NRCC is not activated by contacting them via email.

FEMA Crowdsourcing Unit One-Pager_508.pdf

"Blue Sky" Crowdsourcing Versus "Grey Sky" Crowdsourcing in Emergency Management

Crowdsourcing has many applications outside of emergency response and disaster recovery which may already be in place within your organization. Leveraging citizen science and the crowd for disaster risk reduction efforts can assist in building the business case for crowdsourcing during crisis. In addition, personnel within your organization engaging in "blue sky" crowdsourcing initiatives may be valuable additions to your ICS/EOC crowdsourcing team.

Some examples of crowdsourcing in emergency management outside of response and recovery:

  • iCoast – Did the Coast Change?: In 2014, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) launched a crowdsourcing application called “iCoast – Did the Coast Change?” to allow citizen scientists to identify storm-caused changes in coastlines by comparing before and after photographs, which is something computers are not yet advanced enough to do well. Citizen scientists who use iCoast help USGS improve predictions about coastal change and the vulnerability of communities to extreme storms. Learn more here.
  • Did You Feel It?“: Did You Feel It?” is an online platform, maintained by USGS, through which individuals can report whether or not they experienced an earthquake: and how intense the quake was if they did. This gives researchers a more complete description of what people experienced, the effects of the earthquake, and the extent of damage than traditional ways of gathering felt information…and to get this information almost instantly. Learn more here.
  • mPING: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s mPING project employs citizen scientists to gather weather data. Since its launch in 2012, mPING has received more than 860,000 weather reports on weather events including rain, snow, ice, wind, tornadoes, floods, landslides, fog, and dust storms. These reports are used to improve forecasts related to road maintenance, aviation operations, and public warnings. Learn more here.
Virtual Social Media Working Group VSMWG Community Engagement-508.pdf

Social Media & Preparedness: Social media can help encourage the community to engage in sustained conversation on preparedness, helping them to become more resilient in disasters and other emergencies before they occur. It can also help increase an agency’s visibility and credibility in the eyes of its community. This directly increases the likelihood the community will engage in dialogue and share information through official agency channels during an emergency. The DHS Social Media Working Group drafted a Community Engagement Guidance and Best Practices report to assist emergency managers interested in leveraging this resource prior to an emergency.