Last year, Hawaii-based consulting engineering firm Oceanit showed off an iPhone app that it had developed to help Hawaii State Civil Defense speed up disaster documentation. Dubbed MERCI, or Mobile Emergency Response and Command Interface, the app is designed to facilitate rapid assessments following a natural disaster, allowing responders to collect text notes, photos, and video, and send them to a command center for real-time analysis.
After its first field tests, State Civil Defense Vice Director Ed Teixeira told HawaiiNewsNow that “it is perhaps the best system we’ve seen.”
Oceanit built MERCI for the state civil defense agency with the support of federal funding, basing the app on its INSPECTA database platform. It uses geolocation features to improve data collection and can even run in “local” mode when cellular data service is unavailable.
By streamlining a process that’s still often conducted with pen and paper and manual compilation, the company estimates that it can save up to $30,000 per month during a disaster.
Up until now, MERCI was used only by government and emergency agencies and other official personnel. But last week, Oceanit director Ian Kitajima revealed that the company is preparing to release a citizen-facing version of the app called MyMERCI. Described as “a disaster reporting tool,” it’s expected to be available in early December, pending Apple’s traditional review and approval.
Since the advent of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the potential power of crowdsourced disaster information collection and dissemination has been clear. Training programs focused on social media in disaster preparedness are in full swing, and communities spring to life online when an emergency arises (from local tsunami scares to Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. But such unfiltered, unorganized torrents of information can be difficult to parse for usable data (which is sometimes intentionally inaccurate).
Hopefully an approach like MyMERCI can provide a more direct connection between citizen reporters and responders and official emergency agencies, and collect more standardized and usable real-time information to help decision makers do their jobs.
- MERCI: A Mobile Situational Awareness System for Emergency and Disaster Response
Hawaii Pacific GIS Conference 2012