Tropical Storm Dorian became a named storm on August 24th, battering the Windward and Leeward Islands of the Caribbean with strong winds and rains. Over the coming days, it strengthened to a Category 5 storm, and stalled over Grand Bahama and Abaco Island for over 48 hours causing unprecedented destruction. It eventually tracked northwest paralleling the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, eventually making landfall across Cape Hatteras in North Carolina as a Category 1 on September 6. The storm continued its extended path of damage all the way to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland before dissipating on September 10.
On August 27, the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation (NAPSG) requested the support of volunteers from GISCorps and CEDR Digital Corps to populate the 2019 Hurricanes Crowdsourced Photos Story Map to enhance situational awareness for emergency managers and first responders in affected areas. The team was also in daily contact with the FEMA Crowdsourcing Unit.
The FEMA Crowdsourcing Unit acted as a liaison between digital volunteer networks (DVNs) and other FEMA departments. The crowdsource map and dashboard were front and center in the National Response Coordination Center (NRCC). Each morning, FEMA would relay focus areas that they were interested in for that day (e.g. isolated communities, coastal lowland flooding, power outages, etc.).
Led by the 2019 Hurricanes Admin Team and collaborating in dedicated Slack channels shared by NAPSG and GISCorps, the volunteers mined social media for photos and videos of on-the-ground conditions in the path of Hurricane Dorian, geolocating those photos and uploading them to the application. CEDR Digital supported the project by supplementing the volunteers’ manual searches with an automated feed of relevant tweets posted directly to Slack. The Admin team vetted each photo for relevancy and tagged it with the most appropriate FEMA community lifeline, which was displayed in the Operations Dashboard created by volunteer Erin Arkison.
While this is the seventh time NAPSG has deployed the Crowdsource Story map with GISCorps volunteers, it is an ever-evolving process. In 2019, the addition of the FEMA community lifelines has given the project added value, and we continue to work with FEMA to fine tune products that better suit their needs. Hurricane Dorian was also the first time we focused heavily on preparedness posts in addition to the standard storm impact photos. This was an unusual response in both the length of the storm and the number of jurisdictions it crossed. Ultimately, 28 volunteers reported contributions of 362 hours of volunteer time over an eleven day period.