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New Scientist magazine explores Shneiderman's idea

In an article called "Emergency 2.0," New Scientist magazine looks at the potential of Internet sites that specifically designed to assist in emergency situations. ISR-affiliated Professor Ben Shneiderman and his idea for sites figures prominently in the article.

Most government agencies still see themselves as providers of information rather than engaging in information exchange with the public, New Scientist notes. "For example, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains a disaster website that automatically updates itself according to RSS feeds from multiple, disaster-related government agencies, and has a blog that officials can contribute to, but there is no input from ordinary residents. Molly McPherson, spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a branch of the DHS, says: 'As far as web 2.0 is concerned, that social online interaction, we're really not there yet.'"

Shneiderman's proposed sites would allow victims to post up-to-the-minute information, which could then feed into official decisions such as where to send teams of relief workers. These decisions would in turn get posted online for local residents. Shneiderman and colleagues have submitted a proposal to develop such a site to the DHS.

Shneiderman told New Scientist that the web should be used not just in the heat of the moment, but also as a way for people to organize themselves ahead of time. "That requires getting people to agree that, for instance, taking Mr Jones in the wheelchair from apartment 301 with you when you evacuate the area is your responsibility," he says. "But how do we get people to commit to helping one another in times of stress?"

| Read the article at the New Scientist website. (requires free registration) | Learn more about Shneiderman's proposal |

May 7, 2008

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