In December 2013, CIEM researcher Dr. Tina Comes and Dr. Bartel Van de Walle from University of Tilburg will leave on a research trip to the disaster-struck Philippines to study the impact of digital information on the work of humanitarian response teams. These experts on information management and decision support will gather knowledge on questions like: What are the actual needs of decision-makers confronted with a disaster? How can 'digital volunteers', who for instance monitor social media messages and co-create digital disaster maps, best assist aid workers? This is a collaborative research project between Tilburg Sustainability Center (University of Tilburg, The Netherlands) and the Centre for Integrated Emergency Management (CIEM).
Follow the researchers in the Phillipines
Throughout the world, 'digital volunteers' have responded to many crises from behind their laptops - the typhoon in the Philippines most recently. Bert Brugghemans, a captain and fire officer for the city of Antwerp, the Netherlands is one of these digital volunteers and a strong supporter of this research project. Bert and his online colleagues search the internet and gather information, which is then analyzed, mapped and sent on to humanitarian responders in the disaster areas. By monitoring social media and crowd-sourcing information they have succeeded in creating live crisis maps, using tools such as Google maps, which have provided valuable data to support decision-making in disaster areas. Where are people still missing? Where are people running out of food or drinking water? Which roads, bridges or airports are functioning to allow aid transports? Ultimately, decisions based on better information can save lives.
Disaster Resilience Lab
This project titled, 'Research for the Philippines: Improving Disaster Resilience', is a collaboration between TSC, where Bartel van de Walle strengthens the Climate Action Research Group and the CIEM, where Tina Comes is associate professor in ICT. To coordinate their efforts for this very project they have established the Disaster Resilience Lab as a temporary platform for joint work. In the field in the Philippines, they will draw on the report, 'Field-Based Decision Makers' Information Needs in Sudden Onset Disasters'. This report was co-written by Van de Walle based on a workshop developed for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) and the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) of humanitarian needs in complex emergencies and crises. Many of the workshop participants are now at work on the Philippines.
Van de Walle and Comes plan to visit several agencies that are responding to the disaster in the Philippines, such as the UN-OCHA, Unicef and the Red Cross. How have they used the information provided by the 'digital volunteer network', given the difficulties such as time pressure, stress and an often damaged digital infrastructure? How is information shared between aid agencies? At the same time, the researchers will report about their findings on their Resilience Lab website so that supporting researchers and digital volunteers, working around the globe, can keep providing valuable information. Together they want to prepare for, manage and learn from risks and crises in an increasingly complex and dynamically evolving world- hoping to create disaster resilient societies.