Shen Lu at Protocol: Severe floods caused by torrential rains in Central China’s Henan province have killed dozens and displaced tens of thousands of residents since last weekend. In parallel with local and central governments’ disaster relief and rescue efforts, Chinese web users have organized online, using technology in novel ways to mitigate risks and rescue those who were trapped in subway cars and neighborhoods submerged in floodwaters.
Chinese web users are no strangers to digital crowdsourcing efforts. During the COVID-19 outbreak, volunteers archived censored media reports and personal stories of suffering from disease or injustice that were scattered on social media, saving them on sharable files on GitHub and broadcasting them via Telegram. Despite pervasive censorship, in times of crisis, Chinese web users have managed to keep information and communications channels open among themselves, and with the rest of the world.
Now, people in one of the most oppressive information environments in the world might be helping write the future playbook for disaster response…
In hard-hit Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan province, tens of thousands of residents crowdsourced relief assistance over the past 48 hours through a simple shared spreadsheet powered by the Tencent equivalent of Google Sheets (Google products are banned in China). It was created by a college student to allow those awaiting rescue to log their contact and location information.
In the 36 hours that followed, droves of volunteers have logged on, vastly expanding the breadth of information that lives on the document. It now includes contact information for official and unofficial rescue teams, relief resources, shelter locations, phone-charging stations and online medical consultations. At certain points, over 200 people have edited the sheet simultaneously.
Tencent reported that by Wednesday evening Beijing time, volunteers had entered nearly 1,000 data points. The document has received over 2.5 million visits, becoming the most visited Tencent Doc ever and one of the most efficient and powerful rescue and aid platforms started and contributed by civilians.
Similar crowdsourced documents for flooding victims live elsewhere on the internet. On Shimo Docs, a cloud-based productivity suite developed by the Beijing-based startup Shimo, volunteers have aggregated relief and rescue resources’ contacts by cities and counties. These shared documents have made the rounds on social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat in the past few days….(More)”.