Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) Messages

Smart phone ownership is no more restricted to specific age groups or income levels. This makes it easier for everyone to receive WEA a.k.a. Wireless Emergency Alerts, text messages and access social media during hazard events. However, WEA messages are restricted to 90-character length. The questions that need to be answered to make the message more informative from risk communication and preparedness perspective are:

  1. Is the message length appropriate or short or long?
  2. Why do you think the length is appropriate or short or long?
  3. How informative do you think a 90 character length message is or going to be based on your experience?
  4. What actions need to be taken to address this character length?
  5. Do you think a recipient’s ethnicity, age, education and gender influence his/her perception about WEA message length?

Please leave your thoughts below.


Call for papers on a special issue on past, present and future of Participatory GIS and Public Participation in GIS

In the 1990s, participatory GIS (PGIS) and Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) emerged as an approach and tool to make geospatial technologies more relevant and accessible to marginalized groups. The goal has been to integrate the qualitative and experiential knowledge of local communities and individuals, thereby empowering local peoples and non-profit organizations to participate in political decision-making. By enabling the participation of local people from different walks of life, P/PGIS has provided a platform where these people can share their viewpoints and create maps depicting alternative views of the same problem, but from a local perspective.

Over the years, numerous applications integrating GIS and social and spatial knowledge of local groups have been developed. P/PGIS appears well articulated as a technique. With the growth of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), from an epistemological view point the relationship of P/PGIS constructs (society, technology and institutions) and the use of components (access, power relations, diverse knowledge) in P/PGIS necessitates an exploration of what P/PGIS means in 21st century.

A related field, Citizen Science a.k.a. public participation in scientific research is a research technique that allows participation of public in the discovery of new scientific knowledge through data collection, analysis, or reporting. This approach can be viewed to be somewhat similar in its implementation to P/PGIS, which broadens the scope of data collection and enables information sharing among stakeholders in specific policies to solve a problem. The success of all three concepts, citizen science, PGIS and PPGIS, is influenced by the Geoweb – an integration of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) (e.g., social networking sites) and geospatial technologies (e.g., virtual globes like Google Earth, free and open source GIS like QGIS and location enabled devices like the iPhone) – that allows a platform for non-experts to participate in the creation and sharing of geospatial information without the aid of geospatial professionals.

Following a successful session in the AAG 2015 Annual Meeting, this call is for papers that will appear in a special issue of ‘The Cartographic Journal’ (http://www.maneyonline.com/loi/caj). We are calling for reflections on P/PGIS and citizen science that address some of the questions that are listed below.

  1. What social theories form the basis for the current implementation of P/PGIS? Have these theories changed? What remains persistent and intractable?
  2. What role do spatial theories, such as Tobler’s law of spatial relations or issues of spatial data accuracy, have in P/PGIS, Citizen Science or crowdsourcing?
  3. Since Schlossberg and Shuford, have we gotten better at understanding who the public is in PPGIS and what their role is in a successful deployment of PGIS?
  4. Which new knowledge should be included in data collection, mapping and decision-making and knowledge production? To what extent are rural, developing countries, or marginalized communities really involved in the counter-mapping process? Are they represented when this action is undertaken by volunteers?
  5. What role does new ICTs and the emergence of crowdsourcing plays in the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge? Do new tech and concepts hinder the participatory process or enable empowerment of local communities? Do we have new insights on what could be considered technological determinism?
  6. Do we need to revisit P/PGIS in light of any of these shifts? How often do P/PGIS projects need to be revisited to address the dynamic nature of society and political factors and to allow future growth?
  7. How effective have P/PGIS and Citizen Science been in addressing issues of environmental and social justice and resource allocation, especially, from a policy-making perspective?
  8. Are we any better at measuring the success of P/PGIS and/or Citizen Science? Should there be policies to monitor citizen scientists’ participation in Geoweb? If so, for what purpose?
  9. What should be the role of privacy in P/PGIS, for example, when it influences the accuracy of the data and subsequent usability of final products? How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?
  10. How has the concept of the digital divide been impacted by the emergence of the Geoweb, crowdsourcing and/or neogeography?
  11. What is the range of participatory practices in Citizen Science and what are the values and theories that they encapsulate?
  12. What are the different applications of Citizen Science from policy and scientific research perspective?
  13. To what extent does the spatial distribution of citizens influence their participation in decision making process and resolving scientific problems?
  14. How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?

Submission Deadlines
• Abstract – a 250 word abstract along with the title of the paper, name(s) of authors and their affiliations must be submitted by 15th August 2015 to Muki Haklay (use the links above). The editorial team will make a decision if the paper is suitable for the special issue by 1st September
• Paper – The final paper created following the guidelines of The Cartographic Journal must be submitted by 30th October 2015.
• Our aim is that the final issue will be published in early 2016

Editors: Muki Haklay (m.haklay@ucl.ac.uk), University College London, UK; Renee Sieber (renee.sieber@mcgill.ca), McGill University; Rina Ghose (rghose@uwm.edu), University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee; Bandana Kar (bandana.kar@usm.edu), University of Southern Mississippi – Hattiesburg. Please use this link to send queries about the special issues, or contact one of the editors. We also encourage you post any questions or comments about submissions or the list of topics below.

David Cochran and Joslyn Zale’s AAG Presentations

The GHRL team was in Chicago last week attending the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. While there, Joslyn and I presented early results from our DHS-funded project that focuses on geo-targeting at-risk communities and deploying effective crisis communication systems in the three counties of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.


Joslyn focused on the spatial coverage of common warning devices on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and how public preference for these devices vary according to the socio-economic-cultural characteristics of local residents. Of course, many devices – including television, radio, telephone, and cell phones – are available throughout the study area, different age cohorts prefer different devices. Older adults, for example, tended to place the most trust in conventional devices (television, radio, and sirens) whereas younger adults were more confident in digital technologies (social media and text messages). A number of other factors, including gender, ethnicity, income, and educational levels show similar variations among the sample of the population we surveyed. Joslyn also mapped these variations by zip code in order to show the spatial dimensions of different demographic characteristics. Her work will go a long to helping us to be able to geo-target communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast that are most vulnerable to hazards.

In my presentation, I compared the perceptions of the general public with that of emergency management agencies and other disaster mitigation organizations working on the Missisippi Gulf Coast. In doing so, I addressed these questions: 1) Which emergency warning devices are most used by the general public and by agency personnel; 2) How do the public and agency personnel perceive warning devices in terms of their accuracy, frequency of use, and trustworthiness; and 3) Which devices are most effective (according to the public and agency personnel) in motivating at-risk populations to evacuate? Our results showed that the general public and agency personnel of the Mississippi Gulf Coast share a great deal in terms of their perceptions of common emergency warning devices and broadly accept a variety of conventional devices and digital technologies. There are, however, important differences as well. Agencies tend to place greater emphasis on the importance of text messaging in risk communication (WEA Messaging) whereas the general public expressed some misgivings about the use of this technology in risk communication. This suggests that a hierarchical approach to risk communication centered on text messaging will not be appropriate for some segments of the population. Our results also showed that the general public identified social media and friend-family networks as important sources of hazard information. Although emergency management agencies and disaster mitigation organizations certainly have a social media presence, these technologies might need to be more thoroughly integrated with risk communication.

These are exciting results and there’s more to come as we continue our analysis. With the AAG behind us, we’re beginning to focus on developing our presentations into manuscripts that we plan to submit for peer review publication later this year.

Bandana Kar’s AAG Research Presentation

The 2015 Annual Meeting of Association of American Geographers was held in Chicago. The meeting was a success as a lot of people from all over the world attended and presented in the meeting. Other than enjoying Chicago and its nice weather, I presented in the Resilience and Risk Communication session about the financial losses southern counties of Florida will experience due to storm-surge. I found that other than being urban, the southern counties of Broward, Collier,  Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach are experiencing a consistent population growth at a rate of 1 – 1.6% over the past decade. Furthermore, the single family residences are present within 5 – 7.5 miles of the coast. Based on a storm surge model built on the characteristics of Hurricane Katrina, I also found that most of the residences will experience a 100% damage if they are within 1 mile of the coast to 35% damage if they are present within 8 miles of the coast. So, how much damage these counties will experience in case of sea-level rise?


The discussion about building resilient communities focuses on reducing the recovery time and also reducing the impacts of future hazard events. However, the question arises when growth happens in locations that are already at high-risk – can we really be resilient if we are already in high-risk? Or is it just a myth? Risk communication requires an understanding of the risk so as to inform the public to take appropriate preparatory actions. However, if we deny climate change and its adverse impacts and still live in high-risk zones, then to what extent risk communication will be effective? Finally, geo-spatial science and computer science have been extensively used to predict scenarios of hazard impacts. However, it seems there is a gap between the outcome of these research and how they are used by other research communities and stakeholders. So, what is the role of academics and researchers to bridge the gap and create a resilient community in real sense?

Please post your comments and questions below!