In the course of recent online research regarding the Canterbury, NZ earthquake, I was given a website produced by GNS Science, which contains a comprehensive list of information about the quake. (GNS is a”research institute operating as a limited liability company owned by the New Zealand government.)
In reviewing it, it became clear to me that the folks in NZ have effectively taken advantage of several forms of new digital technology; namely, Google maps, a recovery blog, data gathering from citizens, GIS, and more. For example, they not only have a link to their twitter feed but also a twitter “how to” so that citizens can understand how to follow the latest information and/or send out their own tweets using hashtags designated for the quake.
In the U.S., most of the discussions regarding the use of digital technology have focused on the response and preparedness phases of emergency management. But the NZ website site demonstrates how many of the new means of gathering data and communicating can be used for the recovery phase as well.
By means of comparison, here are some details about the recent BP Oil Spill disaster in the U.S. The BP Oil Spill Restore the Gulf website provides information in a highly polished format, but the communication only goes one-way. And the seemingly interactive “Ask a Responder” tab is pre-scripted: the questions and answers are already provided and the opportunity to actually ask a question is zero. Furthermore, the site does not include any place for citizens to record their experiences with the disaster, though there is a tab with a list of phone numbers to “report a concern”. In contrast, the NZ GNS site has a “felt it” questionnaire for citizens to fill out their observations of the quake. (It should be noted that the U.S.Geological Survey does have a stand alone Did you Feel it website for earthquakes).
In short, while many public agencies in the U.S. use social media, this NZ one-stop shop model, produced by a credible, semi-autonomous national agency, should be useful to U.S. communities and organizations responsible for managing the recovery process. After a disaster, providing information to citizens as well as providing an opportunity for them to record their experiences, probably will be something the public comes to expect, if not demand.
[Thanks to Mr. Ian McLean and Ms Kim Stephens for their assistance.]