As Hurricane Irene bears down the East Coast, millions of people are bracing forthe impact of what could be amulti-billion dollar disaster.We've been through hurricanes before. What's different about this one is theunprecedented levels of connectivity that now exist up and down the East Coast.According to the most recent numbers from thePew Internet and Life Project,forthe first time, more than 50% of American adults use social networks. 35% of American adults have smartphones. 78% of American adults are connected to theInternet. When combined, those factors mean that we now seeearthquake tweetsspreadfaster than the seismic waves themselves. The growth of anInternet of thingsis an important evolution. What we're seeing this weekend is the importanceof an Internet of people.Ascitizens look for hurricane information online,government websites are underhigh demand.In this information ecosystem, media, government and citizens alikewill play a critical role in sharing information about what's happening andproviding help to one another. The federal government is providing information onHurricane Irene at Hurricanes.gov and sharing news and advisories in real-time onthe radio, television, mobile devices and online using social media channels like@FEMA.As the storm comes in, FEMA recommendsready.govfor desktops.Over the next 72 hours a networked public can share its effects in real-time,providing city, state and federal officials unprecedented insight into what'shappening. Citizens will be acting as sensors in the midst of the storm, creating anad hoc system of networked accountability through data.There are already effortsunderway to organize and collect thecrisis datathat citizens are generating, alongwith putting the open data that city and state government have released.Following are just a few examples of how data is playing a role in hurricaneresponse and reporting.
Open data in the Big Apple
The city of New York is squarely in the path of Hurricane Irene and has initiatedmandatory evacuations from low-lying areas. TheNYC Mayor's Officehas beenproviding frequent updates to New Yorkers as the hurricane approaches, includinglinks to an evacuation map, embedded below:NYC Hurricane Evacuation Map
The city provides public hurricane evacuation data on theNYC DataMine.Geographic dataregarding NYC Hurricane Evacuation Zones and HurricaneEvacuation Centers is publicly available on the NYC DataMine. To find and use
this open data, search for “Data by Agency” and select “Office of Emergency
Management (OEM). Developers can alsodownload Google Earth KMZ filesforthe Hurricane Evacuation Zones. If you have any trouble accessing these files,civic technologist Philip Ashlock ismirroring NYC Irene data and linksonAmazon Web Services (AWS)."This data is already being used to power a range of hurricane evacuation zonemaps completely independent of the City of New York, including atWNYC.organd theNew York Times," said Rachel Sterne, chief digital officer of New York City. "As always, we support and encourage developers to develop civicapplications using public data."
Partnering with citizens in Maryland
"We're partnering with SeeClickFix to collect reports from citizens about theeffects from Irene to help first responders," said Bryan Sivak, Maryland's chief innovation officer, in a phone interview. The state has invited its citizens toshareand view hurricane datathroughout the state."This is interesting from a state perspective because there are very few things thatwe are responsible for or have the ability to fix. Any tree branches or wires that go
down will be fixed by a local town or a utility. The whole purpose is to give ourfirst responders another channel. We're operating under the perspective that moreinformation is better information. By having more eyes and ears out there reportingdata, we can make better informed decisions from an emergency managementperspective. We just want to stress that this is a channel for communication, asopposed to a way to get something fixed. If this channel is useful in terms of managing the situation, we'll work with local governments in the future to see if itcan help them. "SeeClickFix has been working on enabling government to usecitizens as publicsensorssince its founding. We'll see if they can help Maryland with HurricaneIrene this weekend.
[Disclosure: O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is aninvestor in SeeClickFix.]
The best hurricane tracker ever?
In the face of the storm, the New York Times has given New Yorkers one of thebest examples of data journalismI've seen to date, ahurricane trackerthat putsopen data from the National Weather Service to beautiful use.