DARPA's $40K 'quest' tests social media's ability to help in emergency

Can social media really spread the word during a crisis and help emergency crews find the resources they need to improve their response to it? The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is putting up $40,000 to find out, and the game is afoot.

The agency is running the CLIQR Quest Challenge (the acronym comes from Cash for Locating and Identifying Quick Response codes), asking participants to use their online presence to locate and identify QR codes that represent various assets responders might need. The first person who identifies the QR codes can win up to $40,000.

The two-week event, which began Feb. 23 and ends March 8, is set up to contain some of the uncertainties of an emergency situation.

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For instance, participants don’t know what kind of emergency they’re up against until they join the game. They also don’t know exactly how many QR codes there are to find. And although they have to play by DARPA’s rules for the challenge, the rules can change at any time, without notice, the agency says.

The game is designed around an emergency that requires a humanitarian response and help from the public in identifying assets such as water, food, fuel and other supplies. One example DARPA offers: Is there a company in Detroit with all-terrain cycles it is willing to donate to an area hit by an earthquake? How would the company know the cycles are needed in that area? And if it will donate the vehicles, which organization does it contact?

The assets required for the relief efforts are designated by appropriate QR codes that have been distributed around the continental United States, just as real assets would be, DARPA says.

But you don’t have to go physically chasing after them. “This quest is not a scavenger hunt, nor is it a geocaching contest or game," DARPA says in its FAQ on the challenge. "It is an opportunity for you to showcase your skills at using social media. You do not have to physically visit any of the locations where the QR codes are publicly displayed — the intent is for you to use your online presence and tools to distribute the code (using the Twitter hashtag #CLIQRquest or keyword CLIQRquest on other platforms) and find others with the codes you need.”

And although the contest has already started, it’s not too late join in; DARPA says it will accept entries up until noon EST on March 8. (But if you’re a federal employee or family member of a fed, you’re out of luck. As usual with agency-sponsored contests, you’re not eligible. State and local government employees, however, can take part.)

DARPA says it hopes to gain a better understanding of how social media can improve disaster response by enlisting help in finding responses the military might not know are there. Time is of the essence in responding to disasters, and delays can cost lives, DARPA says. If social media can help make response more efficient, so much the better.

DARPA will announce the contest winner and post some of its results on the CLIQR Quest website during the week of March 12.


About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 Steve

I'd have to agree with Suzanne. Perhaps they could run a challenge where the winners must report the data provenance (i.e. who notified them of a QR code) and share the prize based on how much assistance was given. This might be analogous to the satisfaction a person feels in a real situation when helping out in a disaster

Wed, Feb 29, 2012 Suzanne Alabama

Darpa Messed up in offering an incentive to their test of the social media for humanitarian purposes. To better judge from a humanitarian perspective, it should have been done on a volunteer basis and the signs should have been left up longer. I became aware after I returned from out of town during the whole phase of the signs being up. From what I see of the twitter feed, everyone wants to win the prize and don't trust the others to share the codes they have found, so the dissemination of information is not happening. When the tornados hit here in Alabama last April, we used a lot of social media outlets to get information out about resources, volunteers, volunteers with equipment and organizing them, needs, lost pets, found items, areas already saturated so that the resources could be shifted to where they were needed etc. From a humanitarian perspective, people are human, they help when it's truely needed, but if there is an incentive to do so, given the state of the economy, greed (or need) sets in and suddenly it is individualized rather than for the greater good. I think the event should be redone with no incentive to see how quickly the information is spread, similar to a Test of the Emergency Broadcast System via Social Media. No incentive = More valid results. Suzanne

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