Communication during large-scale crisis and disaster

Dual review of Megan Finn, “Documenting Aftermath,” and Patrick Meier, “Digital Humanitarians: How big data is changing the face of humanitarian response”

Kristi Pelzel

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The way communities perceive technology as part of a sociotechnical system influence how societies behave in a natural disaster and large-scale crisis such as terror attacks, poaching, or a coup. The books in review examine common and contrasting ideas of technology shaping disaster and disasters shaping technology — specifically, technology used as a source of information. Systems designed, developed, and utilized to manage today’s crisis as compared to the pre-digital era have common threads which reveal the framework of information dissemination’s influence and forecast future trends.

politicization of the internet

Big data and the politicization of the internet as a social infrastructure has gained attention throughout humanitarian projects as digital networks provide promising tools. The United Nations, for example, launched Global Pulse in 2009, creating projects like Haze Gazer. The project uses “advanced data analytics and data science to mine open data, satellites, citizen-generated data, and real-time text, images and video-oriented social media” as a disaster information management tool (Global Pulse). The ideas and expertise presented in the books support research in the field of digital information management as it pertains to maintaining healthy information ecosystems. Information-focused humanitarian efforts, which are supported by organizations like the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) to improve coordination of information in over 130 countries, look at the social impacts of information and customized culture-centric technology to ultimately support those on the ground and on the front lines during crisis. These books bring together thoughtful studies on both the social and technological implications of information in crisis, supporting discussion of successful sociotechnical systems.

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Kristi Pelzel

Advisor, University Faculty Adjunct, M.A. Georgetown University.