MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And we'll be walking through that fertile ground today on Metro Connection. We'll hear about some local inventions that have achieved worldwide fame, even if their local inventors haven't. We'll visit a place that's churning out tons and tons of organic fertilizer made from chicken litter and we'll meet some artists who are turning the D.C. theater scene on its head with inventive low budget punk rock plays. But first, we'll meet another local inventor who really brings home the idea of necessity being the mother of invention.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
The earthquake in Japan has brought massive destruction in that country. And part of the humanitarian need there, and in any disaster really, is the need for information. Where's the damage? Where's the food? What roads are passable? A professor at the University of Maryland is part of a worldwide group that’s volunteered to create a single digital source for that kind of information. So that in the future, responders and refugees can give and receive help as quickly as possible.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Environmental reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour, caught up with Professor Hiroyuki Iseki to learn more about this digital emergency response.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
At his desk at the University of Maryland, Professor Hiroyuki Iseki has a Google map of post earthquake Japan upon his screen.
MR. HIROYUKI ISEKI
So this is the map that we created.
But this is not just any map. So I see a link there that says traffic performance.
Yes. So this data set was obtained from Honda and so they have some mechanism which tracks the location of cars by GPS. I do not know confidential or privacy issues in Japan but as long as one car drives the particular segments of the roadways than the road segment was highlighted in blue. That's what this map shows.
So that's how you can see whether a road is blocked or not? Because if a car went through it, you can presume it's open, is that...
Yes, that's correct.
That information is just the beginning of what Iseki and colleagues from California, Arizona, Germany and Japan compiled into what's known as GIS map or geographic information system map. They scoured the internet for date, all kinds of data. General stuff like, what's the population and more specific stuff like, where are cell phones working, where are the refugees and then they found really useful stuff from individuals organizing on their own and sharing info via twitter and Google talks.
Public phones, charging stations, food supplies, data collected by people who are driving around in the field and they use smart phones to send information to the internet.
While it might seem like a crisis workers dream, this map was not used in Japan after the earthquake. It's an experiment. An attempt to show what emergency response might look like in the future.
Now, we can actually say, here's the kind of data that people were looking for in Japan. So maybe the city of Houston may want to consider that or the city of San Francisco.
Heather Blanchard is co-founder of Crisis Commons. A group she calls a volunteer technology community. Ideally, she says responders could get images and location data, even from social medias such as Flickr or Facebook. But not all data is easy to get. Information is a commodity and not everyone wants to share it, either for personal or for business reasons. Nor is information always in the same format or units across countries. But problems aside, the first step is knowing what information is useful.
If you prepare now, today, in the future, we may be able to respond faster and make better decisions.
Wendy Harmon is head of social media for the Red Cross. She says emergency responders haven't fully integrated with the kind of rapidly evolving open source information systems like Iseki's map, but they're on their way.
MS. WENDY HARMON
I think, we're getting pretty close, but now we're starting to see that this kind of map is cropping up multiple times over the course of one disaster situation. So, you know, it's determining who to pay attention to and which data can be verified. I think that's a really big issue. And what does it tell us and what is it that we really need to know?
But it's only a matter of time, as Harmon says, just take one look at this map and you know it's incredibly useful. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
For a link to the map and other information about data and emergency response, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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