are female (55 percent), between the ages of 18 and 34 (45 percent), and Caucasian (69 percent), with an income above $100,000 (30 percent).3 As a result, one would not expect Twitter to be the most effective way of reaching many of the populations known to be at most risk in a crisis.


A number of organizations have been experimenting with a variety of new tools for emergency management. For example, Microsoft developed a prototype social network (called Vine, released as a beta in 2009, and discontinued in late 2010) especially targeted toward supporting the needs of families, other small groups, and small organizations.

One rationale behind the creation of Vine was that there are many types of disasters, on many different scales and of many different descriptions, local and global, human-made and natural, personal and societal, and only some of these emergencies require an alert to be sent by federal, state, or local governmental authorities. Events of interest only to families or other small groups can still find tools that support alerts and warnings to be useful. Another rationale behind the creation of Vine was the need for tools that support the variety of roles that individuals may play in an emergency—for example, father, husband, Red Cross volunteer, and Little League coach. Flexible tools that support each of these roles could be of considerable value.

Several years ago, researchers at the University of Maryland began designing and developing a prototype of another sort of tool, This tool was designed both to allow the public to use mobile phones and to enable the Web population to report a wide variety of incidents.5 The Web-based tools allowed users to upload photographs and videos so that emergency responders had a better understanding of what was happening at the site of a disaster. Over time, a number of cities and counties have embraced the use of mobile and Web technologies to augment traditional 911 systems.

Looking ahead, workshop participants suggested several directions for next-generation tools. These include building alerting tools that employ multiple communications channels (e.g., e-mail, Web, social networks, and mobile) and support bidirectional communications (so that recipients can send information back to emergency managers). Future tools might


Data available at Accessed March 28, 2010.


Additional information can be found at the project’s Web site,


Ben Shneiderman and Jennifer Preece. “ Community Response Grids.” Science 315:944 (2007). Available at Accessed August 23, 2010.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement