San Francisco adds social networking element to emergency, disaster planning

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If an earthquake struck San Francisco tomorrow, would its residents be prepared for the aftermath?

Probably more so than in the past, but the city’s Department of Emergency Management is brainstorming better ways to help San Franciscans plan for disasters.

“We did a lot of studies around how can we talk about preparedness in a different way,” said Francis Zamora, the department’s spokesman. “What we were finding was that connected communities, communities that had natural social networks, that had people who knew each other, they were a lot more resilient in terms of what happens during disasters.”

The city is working with developers to create a digital social network, SF72, which will encourage residents to link up and share resources. The network is in the very early stages of development, with a launch date tentatively scheduled for early fall. Zamora said the city, which is working with tech partner IDEO, hasn’t yet decided if the network should implement social log-ins with Facebook and Twitter integration or create its own log-ins.

SF72 home page

The technical details are still being ironed out, but the concept is firm. Zamora said SF72 is based on the emergency management department’s existing preparedness resource guide, The site is rudimentary, but provides information on how to prepare for various disasters, including what to pack in your emergency kit and how to help others.

“It’s really important that people find connections in their neighborhood, because it lets people know who needs help and who can help in a disaster,” Zamora said.

Crowdsourcing in an emergency

Social media has become an essential source of information and resources, as evidenced during Hurricane Sandy and in the aftermath of the Boston bombings. Zamora said current emergency preparedness guides are used mainly by people who are inclined to be ready for the worst anyway. SF72 is designed to reach out to people who don’t tend to think about disasters.

The city has discussed working with some of the core companies in San Francisco’s sharing economy; New Yorkers who offered their homes as shelters on AirBnB during Hurricane Sandy is an example of the kind of social resource-sharing that SF72 will encourage.

The site, which may also roll out as an app in the future, will launch with three basic sections: Connect and Share, Prepare, and Make.

Connect and Share will let people sign up to find help or offer resources (if you can provide a generator or cook for several people, for example). Prepare will feature videos demonstrating how to get your home ready for a disaster. Make will take advantage of the site’s open-source nature, so if you wanted to create a People Finder on the site (as Google did after the Boston bombings), you could easily do so.

Zamora said an emergency mode will exist in the background of the site to be switched on by the emergency planning department in the event of a disaster so the department can both share official details and crowdsourced information from the streets.

San Francisco’s social network could potentially be a model for other cities. Zamora said his department has been in talks with New York City’s office of emergency management, and they’re thinking along the same lines.

“Part of the beauty about SF72 is that it is being created open-source, so other cities can take this model and create something that works for them,” Zamora said.

This story, "San Francisco adds social networking element to emergency, disaster planning" was originally published by TechHive.

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