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Informatics in Disasters and Emergency Response
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Apps for emergencies
Boston Bombing Case Study
Ethics in social media
Hurricane Sandy Case Study
Radio communications in disasters
Shortwave and Mediumwave radio in Disasters
What happens when the lights go out?
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Boston Bombing Case Study
On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon about 2:50 p.m. EDT on Boylston Street near Copley Square, just before the finish line. The blasts killed 3 people and injured at least 176 others (for more general information, see the
). This became an immediate complex problem for police and responders - treating the injured, the possibility of secondary devices, and securing the crime scene.
Use of radio channels
of two-way radio traffic from the Boston Police Department was available throughout the incident; recordings are available on
and in a
DAN News article
. Broadcastify also later made available
recordings of the Boston Police Department and Fire Department feeds
from around the time of the incident. Listening to the police and fire scanner feeds is interesting in the difficulties of using "low bandwidth" voice - note how police quickly allow only a single point of reporting; on fire channel how mass casualty incident emerges, how Unified Command Center (UCC) is notified, integration of the (later found to be unrelated) JFK Library fire, and lack of interoperability (at least at the ground level) between Police, Fire and EMS. Later (around 19:00 minutes into recording on fire) channel allocation seems to get worked out quite well - Channel 2 for command (UCC), Channel 4 for operations (see
for channel allocations). Also note CPR being reported, and no obvious use of
Many cellphone networks became inoperational during the incident: at the time, it was thought that networks were shut down to prevent remote detonation of further devices, but it was later
claimed that the networks were simply overloaded
. Scanner feeds indicated this caused problems for first responders and law enforcement, as well as for the public trying to contact friends and relatives.
Social media usage
Social media for good post
: a variety of interesting observations on the use of Facebook, Twitter, Geofeedia, and Flipboard, including: Facebook worked well for "safe and well" messages, probably better than dedicated tools like
Google Person Finder
and Red Cross
Safe and Well
because it is a tool everyone goes to by default, and it didn't get overladed; and the fact that social media seemed to provide information around 15 minutes ahead of CNN, but no less coherent.
PTSC post by Patrice Couliter
: the emerging importance of aggregation and curation tools like Storify (see
example Storify page
), Reddit (see
) and Rebelmouse and issues with cellphones
A blog post on the iDisaster site
examines who tweeted what when, notes that tweets don't need to be "polished" and that good information seemed to get retweeted more than bad, which was ultimately corrected.
Of particular interest in this incident, there were clearly thousands of people taking pictures of the marathon before and during the event, many being posted on social media. This prompted the FBI to
request the public to submit all photos and videos
taken of the event to them.
Social media was heavily used in the later days, in particular during the "Boston lockdown" incident on April 19. Huffington Post had a
. Interestingly, Boston Police
made a request
for media (and social media) to not broadcast locations of the search for suspects - this resulted in live scanner feeds being brought down.
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