Tornado, hurricane, fire! — Improving the crowdsourcing tools that can mobilize the masses to help

I suspect that I’m not alone on this: when you’re more scared than you have ever been, the biggest feeling of desperation comes from wanting to know what the hell is going on.

In media interviews with people affected by a disaster, the most consistent thing I hear is of the frustration and stress because of the difficulties in trying to get information.   The news may be buzzing among those in the outside world where there’s a bigger picture, but for those right there affected by it, the toughest challenge is not knowing what’s going on.

I’m fascinated by the international research being done to pin down evidence about the most effective ways to use communication (processes as well as tools) and media to affect change.  There is interesting work being done in the efforts to improve communication with citizens after earthquakes or fires or tsunamis or bombings or other big frightening incidents that knock out infrastructure.  There have also been some pretty cool innovations to do with the use of mobile phones in emergencies (in June actually I’ll be pulling together some of the most current case studies and developments in that area – I’ll post some highlights here).

It seems it’s becoming almost a norm that when there is a big incident affecting many people, news breaks on social networking sites first — and often long before traditional media.   As I see it, there’s a real need for a Twitter app., or other solution, that can stream all the posts/tweets about an incident into different channels.

If (I know I know, ‘when’!) the Big Earthquake hits this west coast city, people who are able to will send out SMS and phone-to-email and photos and video, or post straight to Twitter where they’ll all be lumped in together.   So Amy’s tweet ‘SE Burrard/Robson 20+ppl., cannot hold up roof – PLS. HELP’ gets blended in with Moussa’s ‘We’re not hurt but is it ever messy #VancQuake’ and Dunia’s ‘So awful about the earthquake in Vancouver. Wish we could do something #VancQuake’, well …that reduces the odds for Amy.   In a disaster, can’t the ‘I’m in trouble’ tweets somehow get priority?  It’s not as easy as a common hashtag, because people in an emergency just aren’t going to remember that.   How could some kind of program or Twitter app. separate all posts about an incident (‘I’m in area, willing to help’ / ‘I’m stuck, need help’ / ‘Far away, willing to crowdsource to help’ / ‘Just chattering about the incident far away’)?

While that challenge is yet to be solved toward improving disaster communication, I see some potential uses for a recently-launched online collaborative video editing tool called Stroome.  I asked some questions on their comment page, and I will update this post when they approve it and (hopefully) post a response.


  1. Hi Imighton:

    Tom, a co-founder from Stroome, the online editing and publishing platform referenced in your blog, here. I really appreciate your finding us and recognizing the potential for this very compelling use case (your original post at

    To respond to your initial idea, yes, we do see immediacy as a key component of the platform. So building collaborative stories around natural disasters (from eyewitness reports to on site pleas for help) could all evolve in a facet of the site. Frankly, we hope they do. And soon we will empowering our community with the tools to do just that.

    For example, we’ll have the ability to upload to YouTube and Vimeo; stream into the site directly from cell phones; and do video tweets from the site. All of these things will facilitate communication and alleviate stress for those in the middle of the disaster area.

    And while we are a few months out on these ‘add ons,’ I hope you and your readers will sign up on the site ( and start familiarizing yourself with the features. Because we have ideas how Stroome will be used, but until the people actually using it tell us how they are really using it, we’ll never know.

    Thanks again for your interest and support. And hope to be included in your June report on innovation.

  2. Meanwhile in emergency preparedness, it’s (sadly) almost revolutionary to see this webpage (& Twitter feed) with City services like fire and public health alerts, weather warnings, airport problems, road and school closures, as a non-silo public alerts place. Citizens first? Who’da thunk.
    Have to admire a city that bushwhacks through bureaucracy, stubbornness, politics, ego holding a flag that says an informed public trumps all.

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