Standby Task Force 101

During the week of August 7, the Standby Task Force (SBTF) held three online trainings on the basics of crisis mapping for volunteers.  The first was facilitated by volunteer coordinator Kirk Morris, the second by geolocation guru Sentil Chinnachamy, and the third by the inimitable Melissa Elliott.

Each training covered the basics of crisis mapping, highlighting and summarizing the roles of the Media Monitoring, Geolocation, Report, and Verification teams. This overview was very helpful to me as a relatively new Report Team coordinator, as it painted a clear picture of the overall process and answered a lot of questions I had about the functions of and guidelines for other teams.  It also really brought home the fact that each team should have an understanding of what the other teams do, as it makes their own tasks much clearer and more focused.

While a power point slide of the SBTF workflow does exist, I will outline the training below for another visualization:

Media Monitoring Team: Creating Reports

The Media Monitoring team monitors Twitter, Facebook, and news outlets for important information. Volunteers create reports but do not approve, verify, or geolocate them. Names should be removed if necessary to protect the identity of the source, for example if they are on the ground in the affected area.  Media Monitors should provide as specific a location as possible for a particular report, but not actually geolocate it.  They should also provide as specific a source as possible in the source field.

Geolocation Team: Geolocating Reports

The Geolocation Team assigns GPS coordinates to reports, where possible, using clues in the reports and tools such as Google Earth and Open Street Map.  If a precise location is found, only the geolocation team should mark the report as “geolocated.” Other teams may mark report as “to be geolocated.”

Report Team: Approving Reports

The Report Team undergoes the first round of quality control on reports, making sure, among other things: names have been removed for the security of those on the ground, categories are checked appropriately, the report makes sense, etc. They will look for unapproved, urgent reports in order to approve them and prepare them for the Verification Team. Reports are only approved if 1) the Geolocation Team has given a specific location and marked the report as “geolocated”, and 2) a specific source or sources is/are given in the source field.

Verification Team: Verifying Reports

Once approved, the verification team begins their work by trying to triangulate different sources in order to verify reports to the extent possible.  For example, perhaps a tweet from someone on the ground may be corroborated by a story in the news. If a report is deemed reliable, the Verification Team volunteers may mark it as verified.

The Task, Translation, and Tech teams work to support the teams at all levels of the process.

This is a summary of a summary, meant to provide in broad strokes a picture of how the SBTF creates crisis maps with Ushahidi. But the conceptual understanding of the work of the SBTF on a macro level has helped me to better visualize how my work on the Media Monitoring, Reports, and Translation teams fit into the work of the other teams toward the end goals of the mapping project.

At the end of the day, we are trying to make something that will be useful to the humanitarian organization that requested the deployment of the SBTF in a given emergency.  Therefore it is highly critical that each team be as accurate as they can.  Humanitarian actors will be able to see all of the reports and can decide whether or not to act on them, whether or not they are verified.  The point of approval and verification is to give a realistic idea of how accurate a report is.

Finally, I have found that since I began volunteering nearly a year ago, the crisis mappers are some of the kindest, most professional and responsive people I’ve ever known.  Even under high-stress situations their attitude remains positive and calm, never losing sight of the bigger picture.

This makes one of the other important aspects of mapping easy: ask questions!  Whether on the Ning site or in a Skype chat set up for a deployment, there is always someone that will be able to answer your questions if there is something you’re not sure about.  As Kirk has pointed out on a number of occasions, the mapping process is an evolving one and we are all learning together.

Despite a couple of technical setbacks during the trainings, which were quickly overcome, the overview was helpful and I think new volunteers got a lot out of them.

I look forward to future trainings and getting to know more of the volunteers!

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