Real-time citizen interaction is transforming society's response to crisis situations. George Mason University (GMU) is working with MITRE Corporation to conduct the Citizen's Emergency Response Portal System (CERPS) Simulation Experiment (SIMEX), which is investigating the hypothesis that citizen participation in crisis response decision-making can improve crisis outcomes. The research is also establishing a baseline for future research to examine the factors leading to successful crisis outcomes and supporting the design of tools and processes for using crowdsoucing for crisis response.

GMU student volunteers play the role of citizens impacted by the emergency. Participants use crowdsourcing technology to view a map depicting incident reports, send reports about their situation to the operations center, participate in Twitter-like message exchanges, and experience the unfolding situation through a simulated sensory environment.

The experiment is measuring how citizen inputs contribute to crisis outcomes and generating a research agenda on crowdsourcing in decision support. Research questions include: (1) how to fuse citizen-provided information with other available information to compensate for biases and improve accuracy of situation assessment; (2) understanding the new planning space and designing new planning processes to capitalize on the benefits of crowdsourcing; and (3) how to provide timely and useful information to citizens while preventing panic and chaos.

This research has potential for broader impact on society's ability to respond effectively and efficiently to disaster scenarios. The project lays a foundation for a program of research to address the effective use of citizen interaction for disaster response decision-making.

Project Report

Crowdsourcing promises to be a game-changing technology for crisis response. Real-time engagement of citizens through social media and communications technology can focus crisis response efforts where they are most needed, transforming the nature of emergency response. Achieving the full benefit requires new systems and processes that exploit the power of modern information and communications technology. Research is needed to design, implement, evaluate and refine these systems and processes. Experimentation is needed to discover points of failure, build in safeguards, and capitalize on what works. Training is needed for responders to integrate crowdsourcing technology into crisis response plans. As an initial step in this direction, George Mason University (GMU) partnered with the MITRE Corporation in a groundbreaking experiment to test the hypothesis that the real-time interaction of the American citizenry in the planning and execution of an emergency operation would improve its result. The simulation experiment was successfully conducted from October 1, 2012 to October 5, 2012, at MITRE’s Net-Centric C4ISR Experimentation Lab (NCEL) and the GMU campus. The Citizens Emergency Response Portal System (CERPS) was used as the platform to support real-time interactions between citizens and emergency responders at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). GMU student volunteers played the role of the public, acting in different simulated crisis scenarios. Citizens sent "chirps" (twitter-like text messages) via CERPS to the EOC. Emergency responders polled citizens via CERPS to ascertain their needs and concerns. The EOC was staffed by actual operators from international, Federal, state and local agencies. Their participation provided valuable experience and insight into effective use of crowdsourcing in emergency response. The experiment found that for emergency response decision makers, citizen involvement provides additional real-time information that improves their situation awareness and understanding of public needs, which may potentially lead to improved emergency response decisions. Through sentiment analysis of chirps, emergency managers can incorporate public concerns into the decision making process and thus improve the outcome of the emergency response process. Citizen involvement also keeps the public better informed about the evolving situation and emergency response decisions, and thus may lead to better execution of emergency response decisions. The CERPS SIMEX also highlighted some of the challenges brought by public interaction through social media. These include the vetting of information for accuracy, the possible influence of bad actors, and the potential for emergency managers to be distracted by vocal social media users to the detriment of the overall emergency response. Additional research is needed to identify ways to mitigate these challenges. The CERPS SIMEX demonstrated the value of citizen interaction during a crisis, highlighted policy issues that must be addressed as social media become integrated into crisis response command and control, and identified areas for further research to enable effective use of crowdsourcing for emergency response.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Advanced CyberInfrastructure (ACI)
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Kevin Thompson
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George Mason University
United States
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