The devastating Japanese tsunami once again brought to forefront the need for effective crisis management. Since the Haiti earthquake, Ushahidi, the internationally recognized platform, which uses crowd sourcing for crisis management has revolutionized the way agencies go about learning about vital information of safe spots and danger zones. Within two hours of the earth quake, Sinsai was established to help search for survivors and provide vital information of safe spots and danger zones (Daily Crowd Source 2011).

Backtracking to what exactly crowdsourcing is, it can be generically defined as:

“The act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call” (Wikipedia).

Crowdsourcing has manifested itself in numerous ways in the space of social entrepreneurship and innovation. This post specifically deals with a tool that has opened new frontiers in the area of crisis management: Crowdmap.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out, do so now. It’s a platform built by Ushahidi to crowdsource crisis information and see it on a map and timeline. So it would look something like this:

One of the awesome things about the Ushahidi platform is that it’s free. Anyone can run their own crowdsourcing website without having to know the intricacies of running their own server.

Ushahidi however, make it clear that crowdmap doesn’t need to be limited to managing crisis information. It can be used to monitor elections, curate local resources and…document a zombie invasion.

Uhm, moving on, luckily people were quick to utilize crowd map during the 2010 floods in Pakistan. For example, through text messages, PakRelief Crowd Map creates a dynamic map of flood-related emergencies (they’re broken down in categories like shelter, health and sanitation, water etc.) and directs relief agencies to that area. All you need to is text your observations about the disaster to 3441, beginning your message with “FL” for flood relief. Through incident reporting, PakRelief Crowd Map aims to ensure the efficient distribution of limited resources.

Lahore University of Management Sciences has launched a similar initiative, Pakistan Flood Monitoring and Policy Support (Pakistan Flood MAPS). In the short-term, the initiative is largely focused on catering to the mapping needs of organizations involved in relief and reconstruction activities in flood affected areas. While PakRelief Crowd Map was more focused on incident reporting directing the efforts of relief agencies, it appears that Flood Maps aims to give organizations a way of visually reporting the progress of their efforts. The central and long-term objective of the initiative however is to map mauzas (revenue estates) across the country to bolster diaster preparedness in the future:

“Such maps will provide a more precise and useful picture that will enable relief providers (both public and private) to design and implement interventions that target the right regions and the right persons. Mauza mapping is, therefore, crucial for the effective planning, coordination and transparency of any relief effort”.

Needless to say, the fact that individuals and organizations in Pakistan have been quick to pick up on crowd map is great. On the policy front, the question of how the Pakistan government will incorporate crowd mapping as part of its centralized relief and rehabilitation strategy remains to be seen. If you however, know of government (or private) initiatives that are tapping into the various opportunities provided by crowd map, please let us know in your comments!