Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, as a Category 4 hurricane on October 10, 2018, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph and life-threatening storm surges. The hurricane tore through the Florida Panhandle into Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, leaving a swath of severe wind damage in its wake. Lack of power and cellular service, combined with roads damaged by storm surge or blocked by fallen trees and debris, impeded the flow of information to first responders and emergency managers.
To improve situational awareness for responders, the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS Foundation (NAPSG) deployed the photo crowdsourcing application and workflow similarly used in September 2018 during Hurricane Florence. Led by NAPSG Programs Manager (and GISCorps volunteer) Paul Doherty and supported by GISCorps Coordinator German Whitley, 20 GISCorps volunteers contributed their skills and a combined 170 hours to post nearly 600 geolocated photos to the 2018 Hurricanes Crowdsource Photos application over the course of four days.
Volunteers combed social media and news outlets for photos of on-the-ground conditions, using details within the images or clues embedded in accompanying text to determine each photo’s location. Volunteers also sifted through auto-gathered tweets posted to an automated Slack channel powered by Zapier. The Zapier feed, configured by Rob Neppell of Crowd Emergency Disaster Response (CEDR) Digital Corps, gathered tweets based on geographic place names and relevant keywords.
GISCorps volunteers Erin Arkison, Dacey Zelman-Fahm, and Holly Torpey shared the round-the-clock responsibility of vetting each photo contribution for relevance, locational accuracy, and attribute completeness using the Esri Crowdsource Manager application. Erin also managed a dashboard to track the mission’s progress and motivate volunteers.
The application and the resulting dataset were used by the FEMA National Response Coordination Center, Florida State Emergency Operations Center, and FEMA and state search and rescue teams to increase situational awareness and inform decision making.