Post Game: Dissecting Social Media on Relief and Rescue

Screenshot of Project Noah as of 8 August 2012, 08:45AM

The rain has finally stopped. Relief and rescue effort is underway from all sectors. There is something to be proud of. We’ve learned a lot since Ondoy. And what we’ve learned, the government has used technology such as Project Noah to its advantage. This time around, the Philippines’ government can cope, and is coping with the disaster. The good folks at the Palace, at the Metro Manila Development Authority, at the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, the local governments, the police and military and countless others— these people deserve more than a standing ovation. There is a difference between Ondoy and Rainy Tuesday. There was a system in place.

If you’re a social media junkie like I am, the last time we had this problem was during Ondoy. There was no government in place, and comms were down, and twitter and other social networks served as the communications medium. It served as a great place for government to advice citizens of service status, of weather alerts, of class, work suspension. It is also great for publishing information in a one-to-many way. It was awesome.

On the one hand, it sucked as a rescue tool. I know it is well-meaning people do the retweets hoping it will get to a government official so some action can be done. We had material being retweeted that proved to be false information. Not maliciously of course, but it adds to the noise that government has to deal with. We had material being published that we didn’t know if rescue services had already ticked off their list. Like people needing help, or trapped. We don’t know which parts needed help, or what kind of help. Did they need more rescue boats? Did they need more food? Water? Where? and what parts so maybe relief organisations can take that slack and take care of that situation.

It is obvious that government is doing its job. As the president noted in a press conference, government has the capacity, but we should help the government too by not overwhelming the rescuers or making it harder for our government to do their jobs.

What I’m thinking that’s missing is a ticketing system. A place where things can be reported— kinda like filing a bug report. Images are tagged for people to send information. Hospitals, government agencies can access the backend so they can publish what area needs what. PGH needs more medicines? What kind? It is published on site. UST hospital is flooded? What level? and is it running out of fuel? There should be a page for that. If people know an area where they need to be rescued? Tag the place with geolocation, name and no. of people. And rescue services and checkin to tag if they’ve been rescued or if it is a false positive. So there is a way for the public to see what is false information, or to see what effort has already been solved so people can move on to the next target. If somehow this could be integrated with twitter and location based services to create a map— a one database where everyone can come together to share information with each other, and with government, relief and rescue agencies, then so much better. If developers are willing to write this app, and someone to partner with government, and other private entities, I for one am willing to donate the server space and bandwidth for it.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • UPnnGrd

    Hey…. did you see that news item where PersiNoynoy took decisive action to release 75 boats for rescue action? 75 boats, yey!!! The pressure was intense to out-Ondoy-performance the Ondoy-performance of GMA administration. But — fine print — these were the same 75 boats that J-Robredo has categorized as unsafe/not useable.

    Social media is very good for one unique metric — only those who can tweet gets the messages. TRIAGE in action.

  • Nik

    Methodology I am familiar with is (at least in other countries) is an automated system managed by the government (local usually) where by major public/private institutions are connected. These institutions are constantly updating based on needs and capacities. That information is then devolved to private groups who are aiding in response and resource solicitation/allocation activities.

    For example, private hospitals update based on medication levels, space, etc. That way it’s easy for central coordinating entity to allocate resources and direct people in need of medical attention to hospitals that can take them in. Then, groups like Red Cross know not to sent victims to (let’s say UST) but instead to Manila Doctors; or people suffering from respiratory ailments to St Lukes instead of Makati Med. Of course this presupposes that the hospitals (private and public) are well-maintained and not in need of rescue in their own right.

    Your concerns are part in parcel with the issue of relying on social media as a response mechanism. How much material is out of date? How much information is second or third hand? How much is just noise? Social media is a boon and the social media response the last few days has been amazing and astounding.

    Usually, government relies on on-ground teams that are constant coordination through a central location to track down tips and coordinate needed resources. How to connect social media to such a centralised system for response/coordination (which we only have in a rudimentary sense at the moment) would be interesting. My initial sense (based on experience) is that social media might be best utilised as a ‘hunt and find’ tool for government (local and national) or as info sharing.

    The problem so far is that most of the ‘needs’ has been predominantly crowd-sourced. If the government could create an info/resources tracking system like I am familiar with elsewhere, then social media can also take on a role of dissemination and resource soliciting.