After almost everyone in Leyte and Samar were "cut off" from the communications grid, the only option left for relatives and loved ones to get and send information is through social network. Filipinos used social media to not only work through disaster response in the midst of Typhoon Yolanda, but to also prepare for it by the creation of government-sponsored hashtags before the typhoon made landfall.
However, when one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in history makes a landfall, no matter how everyone thought they are well-equipped to deal with it, chaos can still ensue. Even on social media, hundreds of thousands of tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagrams can overwhelm human capacity to get a clear picture of who needs what.
The result: data stagnation or the inability of disaster response teams to address reports and act on them in a timely manner due to the volume of data and noise from unneeded social media information.
This is where Patrick Meier could come in. Meier is the Director of Innovation at the Qatar Foundation Computing Research Institute (QCRI) and he can offer a lot to talk about when it comes to big data in the midst of a crisis. He develops tools, like the just launched website MicroMappers, that quickly sort through online data, from tweets to uploaded photos, and then display the information on satellite maps.
When he spoke to the participants of the Manila Social Good Summit from Qatar via Google Hangouts last September 2013, he explained how there was more data available for people now through social media and filtering all the data to provide accurate and timely information was important in the middle of a disaster. He also stressed the importance in coordinating with the Digital Humanitarian Network, which is the official interface between formal humanitarian organizations and global volunteer networks.
Meier is an advocate of the use of a combination of human and machine computing to help solve or otherwise mitigate stagnation in big crisis data. Machines would process information quickly which humans could then verify and act upon as needed.
He's using a relatively new set of "crisis mapping" tools to assist humanitarian work during the ongoing disaster of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Aid agencies can view these maps, which change in real time based on data coming in, and then use that information to help plan their relief efforts. The only thing needed was to find people willing to take the time to use the service.
"Situational awareness is (a) key to allocating resources and coordinating logistics," Meier told National Geographic last year, when he was selected as a National Geographic emerging explorer.
"These dynamic ever changing maps are like having your own helicopter," he added. "They provide a bird's-eye view as events unfold across time and space. Gaining information like this straight from crisis zones is a game changer; these technologies didn't exist just a few years ago."