Clever app with EM potential: SeeClickFix

I first saw some of the potential of the website and mobile app SeeClickFix in the articles that covered Hurricane Irene’s passing through New England (like Steve Buttry’s articles here and here about a man’s Twitter rant about utilities having problems restoring service).  A silver lining to the storm passing through was that it generated a lot of buzz for the website, such as this article at the New Haven Register.  Turns out I had seen SeeClickFix referenced before as an exercise in government transparency by Penelope Trunk in her blog, and in Social Times as “Civics 101“, where they call attention to the Facebook integrated app.

When everything goes as planned, SeeClickFix is exactly what its name implies.  See a problem?  Report it online; send a picture even (all very geo-aware and slick with a smartphone).  You can login or be anonymous.

It’s very cool that some communities, like Boston, MA and Charlotte, SC have adopted the application to one degree or another (unlike my town, at least for the moment).

I think this could be useful as a tool in the mitigation and recovery phases, but I’m not sure that it’s appropriate in the response phase.

Of course, all these eyes on the ground are great, but someone on the other end has to be willing to engage them, whether it be homeowners associations, the local government, or the utility companies.

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2 thoughts on “Clever app with EM potential: SeeClickFix

  1. Interesting app and concept – a classic case of ‘every person is a sensor’. The problem is integrating this information into the common operating picture. How do we get emergency managers to use the information provided? Do they even know that this information is available? What happens when it conflicts with the ‘official’ view of the situation on the ground? These are not easy problems to solve

  2. Thanks for the comment! The app does present some challenges from an EM perspective. For one thing, don’t go out in the storm with your smartphone taking pictures of downed power lines! I believe SeeClickFix is working to integrate at the customer service management level with municipalities and utilities, and that seems like a logical fit that could contribute to the common operating picture. I can see that there is potential for unreliable information including gaming/hacking of the system, which is unfortunate under normal circumstances, and could be even worse in a recovery situation. On top of that, there could be a digital divide bias if SeeClickFix was over-relied on or given too much weight. A few other things I thought about: 1) it would probably be stronger as a mitigation tool than a recovery tool, when timeliness and resource constraints wouldn’t be as much of a concern. 2) there is an optional authentication component to the app, and there is likely capability for a reputation score to be tied to reports (how many reports correlate? are the users authenticated? is it geospatially appropriate? is there a usable photo? what is the history of that user? etc.). 3) it could help provide focus or clarity in conjunction with information from other sources.

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