Mapping a flood of new data

Rebecca Lipman at Economist Intelligence Unit Perspectives on “One city tweets to stay dry: From drones to old-fashioned phone calls, data come from many unlikely sources. In a disaster, such as a flood or earthquake, responders will take whatever information they can get to visualise the crisis and best direct their resources. Increasingly, cities prone to natural disasters are learning to better aid their citizens by empowering their local agencies and responders with sophisticated tools to cut through the large volume and velocity of disaster-related data and synthesise actionable information.

Consider the plight of the metro area of Jakarta, Indonesia, home to some 28m people, 13 rivers and 1,100 km of canals. With 40% of the city below sea level (and sinking), and regularly subject to extreme weather events including torrential downpours in monsoon season, Jakarta’s residents face far-too-frequent, life-threatening floods. Despite the unpredictability of flooding conditions, citizens have long taken a passive approach that depended on government entities to manage the response. But the information Jakarta’s responders had on the flooding conditions was patchy at best. So in the last few years, the government began to turn to the local population for help. It helped.

Today, Jakarta’s municipal government is relying on the web-based project and a handful of other crowdsourcing mobile apps such as Qlue and CROP to collect data and respond to floods and other disasters. Through these programmes, crowdsourced, time-sensitive data derived from citizens’ social-media inputs have made it possible for city agencies to more precisely map the locations of rising floods and help the residents at risk. In January 2015, for example, the web-based Peta Jakarta received 5,209 reports on floods via tweets with detailed text and photos. Anytime there’s a flood, Peta Jakarta’s data from the tweets are mapped and updated every minute, and often cross-checked by Jakarta Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) officials through calls with community leaders to assess the information and guide responders.

But in any city Twitter is only one piece of a very large puzzle. …

Even with such life-and-death examples, government agencies remain deeply protective of data because of issues of security, data ownership and citizen privacy. They are also concerned about liability issues if incorrect data lead to an activity that has unsuccessful outcomes. These concerns encumber the combination of crowdsourced data with operational systems of record, and impede the fast progress needed in disaster situations….Download the case study .”