Whenever there are disasters, such as earthquakes or hurricanes, many people quickly go online to try to find out more information or to see if there are ways to check on the condition of family or friends. Often a bunch of informal "emergency" websites spring up (often volunteer-based) that feed important information and become something of a de facto standard. Now there's a new suggestion (soon to be a pilot program) that US communities create special emergency sites for exactly this purpose. The two lecturers behind the idea compare it to the 911 system that people call in emergencies. In this case, though, people would just go to a special 911.gov website, where official information would be provided and (more importantly) people could register and add their own information about what was going on, or if there were certain problem areas that needed help. It would combine the idea of an official emergency information site (and standardize where it would be) with concepts normally associated with citizen journalism. There are some concerns about "vandalism" of such a site -- but the team behind this idea thinks that it can be contained. It seems like an idea that makes a lot of sense -- though there are still some questions about exactly how it works, who has access to it and how people will learn about the site's existence. Hopefully these will become clearer as the pilot program moves forward.
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