Crisis Camp Italy: Using Web 2.0 to Manage Emergencies

After Paris [fr] – Bologna. Crisis Camp [it] is now landing in Italy, as part of a European network which has developed over the last few months, and whose main goal is to “engage with new technologies which can be be of use in the management of emergency situations and crises”.

These collaborative technologies are being made possible by the emergence and refinement of Web 2.0 applications which are readily accessed and used.

The philosophy (on the level of ideas and in practice) that these applications are based on is crowdsourcing, that is to say, active and direct participation in the community. But what is a Crisis Camp? It designates an informal conference, in this case a BarCamp specialising in online resources designed to help manage a wide range of crises, from the states of emergencies caused by natural disasters to conflicts and political and social revolutions.

Crisis Camp Italy

Crisis Camp Italy

Mapping, geolocalization, citizen journalism, data management: these are just some of the topics which will be discussed in Bologna [it] on the 19 November, 2011. The provisional programme can be found here [it]. Everyone is welcome to propose topics for discussion by filling out an online application form [it].

Following the success of collaborative platforms like Ushahidi and of various other Web 2.0 applications, harnessing social media and directly involving citizens have become essential means of dealing with increasingly unsettling emergencies, as demonstrated by initiatives established in response to the recent floods in Thailand, and which is also evidenced by the International development of the Crisis Commons network.

We asked Elena Rapisardi [it], a web content strategist and an active promoter  of the event, a few questions in order to better focus the meeting in Bologna.

Global Voices (GV): Why was Crisis Camp established, what are its aims and what are its plans for the future?

Elena Rapisardi (ER): Crisis Camp Italy aims to be a coming together of people who deal with crises, emergencies and risk, and who see in Web 2.0, an approach and tools which are useful in managing and, above all else, in preventing crises. The idea is to establish a network. A network of people with shared objectives and principles, like collaboration and resilience. Crises, emergencies and risks can only be prevented, managed and overcome by the development of a resilient and collaborative community which is capable of proactively involving all relevant parties, from the scientific community to citizens, as well as institutions, the media and experts. For this reason I think that any Crisis Camp held in Italy, as was the case in Paris and elsewhere in the world, must also consider how to begin establishing links with the existing response systems. A difficult challenge as it requires patient work and presupposes a willingness, on both sides, to understand the requirements and find shared tools for collaboration.

GV: Even in Italy, is there a need, as demonstrated by the the recent floods in Liguria, for more efficient and on hand tools, with which to respond to emergencies?And are people really ready to organise themselves over the Internet?

ER: On the technological side, many useful applications exist in Italy as well.  But I think that innovations in the field of emergency and crisis management require a cultural change, above all else, so that technology can play its part but does not become an end in of itself and does not lead to competitiveness.  Free and open technology exists, there are large numbers of open source projects. It is, perhaps, necessary to take into account standards, open data  and everyday Internet usage “practices”, and even education, as Internet access does not automatically imply Internet literacy.  The point is, however, that we need to move from the emotional engagement that makes us send a photo to our friends and “followers”, in order to share an emotional response, to a conscious and proactive participation. It is not an easy change to make but meetings like the Crisis Camps can unite strengths, experiences and energy and help make the change.  I think that initiatives like the use of crowdmapping to collect visual evidence of the recent floods in Liguria, organised by the Genoa and Livorno offices of “La Reppublica”, in collaboration with the Department of Earth Sciences in the University of Turin and NatRisk,  are a first step towards collaborations between the scientific community and the media. There are new methods of making news and new rules to be learned. I do not believe in instant solutions, the Internet is not a question of “just click this”, the Internet is much more than a simple “click”.

GV: On a more global level, applications like Ushahidi seem to be in wide use, but are these applications really helpful or do they end up creating rumours, unreliability and information overload?

ER: The reliability of information gleaned from social media or from initiatives such as crowdmapping, is a problem which is keenly felt by all VTCs [Volunteers Technical Communities] and there are projects in place to define and establish the trustworthiness of contributors. Personally I think that we have to think in terms of preparedness, of “entering” the Internet and establishing a reputation and position. There is no ignoring the social and communicative phenomenon that is social media. It is impossible to exclude or control it. People will keep tweeting and posting on Facebook. That's why we have to enter the stream and “collaborate” to create shared spaces, become a trusted and recognised voice. Two interesting examples are INGV and the Consorzio Lamma Toscana [it], both of whom are constantly present on Twitter and use it as their principal means of communication. Events must be followed and contributions made while they are in progress. Certainly it is not an easy task, as communication is a responsibility and the new media demands speed and a “just in time” mentality that the established information management processes of some organisations cannot cope with, not out of malice, or at least I hope not, but because they lack the capabilities to adequately manage “post-Gutenburg revolution” information, that is to say, information which is quick, on time and pervasive.

For updates on Crisis Camp Italy and related developments, you can visit the official website [it] and follow the hashtag #crisiscampit on Twitter.


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