Today I blogged on something on Emergency Management that I have been thinking about a lot lately. The amount of highly useful information is exploding–but the useful information is buried in the detritus of that explosion. This has significant implications for almost every aspect of life–from shopping, to conversing with friends, to studying up on your next vacation destination. Since I work in crisis and emergency response, I’m looking at the implications for that field.
My blogpost is focused on emergency managers. The implications for response management is that more and more decisions about how to respond to an event are going to be based on the plethora of information available from information sources outside the response–the observers using their mobile computer capability along with all the information capturing sensors that are taking over our world–like webcams and building status sensors.
But this challenge hits crisis communicators hard in a couple of ways. Since part of the job of crisis communications is external monitoring, it right now typically falls on the communicators to do the media, social media and community monitoring. The purpose of this was to gauge communication, capture rumors and misinformation and generally use this info to improve the communication. But now we are seeing that the information gathered through this monitoring may be of extreme importance to the response managers. So suddenly communicators have a very important new role and one that brings them or should bring them much closer to the response management decisions. They may have the best intelligence available, and that intelligence is needed to make informed response decisions.
The other reason this hits communicators hard is that the information coming from the outside world is extremely dynamic. As we saw in the gulf spill as in all major events, the issues come and go like the stuffed animals in the “whack-a-mole” game. Smash one down and another pops up. While the dynamic nature of “mini-crisis of the moment” has been around for a long time, now it is more dynamic and potentially more of a crisis than ever. An issue can pop up in your trend tracker and become huge as you sit and watch the word cloud grow. You don’t know if it will transition into the broader blog world or the mainstream media world and become the “breaking news” story of the evening cable shows, or whether it will disappear into the ether like most of these instant issues. So it means that the monitoring never ends and neither does the necessity to be extremely nimble and responsive.
I fully expect that solutions will begin to emerge that will allow all the data coming in from outside a response to be strained, manipulated, algorithmed, and trend-tested to death. There will be major efforts launched to try to assimilate all this mountain of realtime information and turn it into actionable intelligence. In the blogpost I point to ALADDIN as one artificial intelligence project aimed at capturing this kind of information and automatically turning it into useful information for, in this case, robots to use in responding to disasters.
One might say, well, look at Google. We need to googleize realtime disaster or crisis information. After all, it is their stated intention to “organize the world’s information.” And I think Google needs to be considered as a sort of model for what needs to come next. However, for every action there is a reaction. Note this story today in the New York Times about how one extremely unscrupulous business man discovered that the worst he treated his customers, the better it was for his business–thanks to Google and its automated search.
Given the stakes in crisis and emergency management, I suspect there will be a role for humans to evaluate this mountain of information. So, in the meantime, there is plenty of work for crisis communicators to do in helping decisionmakers make sense out of all the information.