Digitized crisis alerts don’t generally fit the definition of participatory aid, given that they are essentially the evolution of the traditional, centralized formal aid communications. For example, Google.org’s Public Alerts bring emergency broadcasts into the smartphone age by posting updates across Google Search, Maps, and Google Now (the intelligent notifications system for Android devices). GeoLoqi (recently acquired by ESRI) and other location-based mobile technologies allow groups to push messages to anyone inside a given geographic area. This technology, while exciting, retains the traditional broadcast model where formal aid agencies push a message to a population. It does not allow for mass collaboration. As Willow Brugh points out, the public’s ability to speak is often paired with the expectation of receiving a response.
One area where crisis alerts do involve public actors is the work Volunteer & Technical Community groups have conducted to help bring formal aid agencies’ messages (sometimes kicking and screaming) into the social era.
The challenges of this work are well covered by the Social Media Emergency Camp report. While formal aid agencies drag their feet for fear of expanded responsibilities or unknown liabilities, V&TC groups like Humanity Road have helped fill the vacuum online during this transitional period.
Humanity Road’s mission is to educate the public to “survive, sustain, and reunite.” An example of this mission in action might include transcribing official emergency radio and TV broadcasts to social media: if you’ve lost power or left your home, it’s unlikely you have an emergency radio or portable TV, but quite likely, in the immediate aftermath, that you have your smartphone and access to social media. This assertion has been backed up by data in at least one crisis: Twitter usage more than doubled in the two days following Hurricane Sandy compared to the two days prior to the storm. Humanity Road focuses on disaster preparedness and education, disaster response, and process improvement.