FEMA crowdsources disaster response

FEMA has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to deploying technology to try and stay one step ahead of natural disasters. It was one of the first agencies to send portable computers out with workers in the field. As far back as 1998, the agency was deploying tablets to help record natural disasters and coordinate emergency responses.

Disaster Reporter app

Disaster Reporter app

Even with more portable and powerful handheld computers in widespread agency use, FEMA has been depending on agents carrying devices out into disaster zones. But now the agency is turning to crowdsourcing to collect information quickly, giving the very people who need assistance an important tool in helping to coordinate FEMA's response.

Launched with the help of BAE Systems and Eye Street Solutions,  FEMA’s official mobile app now has a crowdsourced feature that allows citizens to report, photograph and explain conditions in their local area. Called the FEMA Disaster Reporter, it was first successfully used as part of the response to flooding in Colorado last September.

The app allows people to upload photographs and descriptions of disaster areas, which are all geotagged with the GPS technology embedded with most smartphones. The photos are moderated and then posted on a map for the public and emergency managers to view. FEMA could then get a more complete picture of a disaster as it unfolds and send resources exactly where the needs have been reported.

In addition to uploading data through the new Disaster Reporter function, FEMA’s mobile app also provides useful information to people trying to get help. Developed by FEMA’s Digital Engagement team, the app contains disaster safety tips, an interactive emergency kit list, emergency meeting location information and a dynamic map pointing to open shelters and FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers in the area.

The Disaster Reporter feature is currently available as free download for the Android, iOS and BlackBerry platforms.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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