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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