Anne Frances Johnson in ThrivingEarthExchange: “In the shadow of a rumbling volcano, Quito, Ecuador solicits just-in-time advice from the world’s disaster experts…
Cotopaxi’s last large-scale eruption was in 1877, and the volcano’s level of activity suggests another one is inevitable. In addition to spewing lava, a major eruption would melt Cotopaxi’s glaciers and send a large flow of material barreling down the mountain, posing an immediate risk to people and potentially causing rivers to overflow their banks. Some 120,000 people living in the valley beneath the volcano would have a mere 12 minutes to escape the lava’s path, and more than 325,000 other area residents would have only slightly more time to evacuate. An eruption could also create significant long-term challenges across a broad area, including dangerous air quality and disruptions to infrastructure, food systems and water supplies.
As danger looms, a city gets coaching from the crowd
Aware that the city was underprepared for a significant eruption, The Governance Lab, a program of the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, volunteered its time and expertise to help local officials accelerate preparation efforts. The GovLab, which helps governments and other institutions work collaboratively to solve problems, teamed up with Linq, the city’s innovation agency.
“We were very aware that this was a time-sensitive matter—we needed experts, and we needed them fast,” explained Dinorah Cantú-Pedraza, a human rights lawyer and Research Fellow at The GovLab who collaborated on the project. “So that’s why we decided to create online sessions focused on how innovations can solve specific problems facing the city.”…
GovLab’s “fail-fast, learn-by-doing” approach is crucial to its projects’ success in remaining responsive to the problems at hand. “That was a central element in how we worked with our partners and improved the approach as we went forward,” said Cantú-Pedraza.
To help translate the Cotopaxi crowdsourcing model for other circumstances, GovLab is working to build a network of innovators and experts that can be tapped on short notice to address problems as they emerge around the world. Although we can hope for the best in Quito and elsewhere, the reality is that we must plan for the worst…(More)