Disaster, Infrastructure and Participatory Knowledge: The Planetary Response Network

Simmons, Brooke D.; Lintott, Chris; Reece, Steven; Allen, Campbell; Miller, Grant R. M.; Yore, Rebekah; Jones, David; Ishikawa, Sascha T.; Jardine-McNamara, Tom; Boyer, Amy R.; O’Donnell, James E.; Fortson, Lucy; Kuzin, Danil; McMaster, Adam; Trouille, Laura and Wolfenbarger, Zach (2022). Disaster, Infrastructure and Participatory Knowledge: The Planetary Response Network. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 7(1) p. 21.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.392


There are many challenges involved in online participatory humanitarian response. We evaluate the Planetary Response Network (PRN), a collaboration between researchers, humanitarian organizations, and the online citizen science platform Zooniverse. The PRN uses satellite and aerial image analysis to provide stakeholders with high-level situational awareness during and after humanitarian crises. During past deployments, thousands of online volunteers have compared pre- and post-event satellite images to identify damage to infrastructure and buildings, access blockages, and signs of people in distress. In addition to collectively producing aggregated “heat maps” of features that are shared with responders and decision makers, individual volunteers may also flag novel features directly using integrated community discussion software. The online infrastructure facilitates worldwide participation even for geographically focused disasters; this widespread public participation means that high-value information can be delivered rapidly and uniformly even for large-scale crises. We discuss lessons learned from deployments, place the PRN’s distributed online approach in the context of more localized efforts, and identify future needs for the PRN and similar online crisis-mapping projects. The successes of the PRN demonstrate that effective online crisis mapping is possible on a generalized citizen science platform such as the Zooniverse.

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