Digital volunteering in disaster risk reduction: an opportunity or a challenge?



VGI in disaster management. Photo by Billy Haworth
VGI in disaster management. Photo by Billy Haworth

Hazard Note 28 covers PhD research findings by Dr Billy Haworth into the role of volunteered geographic information in fostering community engagement in bushfire preparation. In recent years, information from community members contributed online has proved highly useful in emergencies. Information sharing activities by private citizens using social media, smartphones, and web mapping tools have been termed volunteered geographic information (VGI), or digital volunteering. This research examined the potential role of VGI in fostering community engagement in bushfire preparation.

There are many opportunities, challenges and implications of VGI in emergency management, much broader than just bushfire. Findings show that VGI is more than just technology – it is about people sharing their knowledge and mapping collaboratively as a social practice. It presents opportunities for citizen empowerment in line with shared responsibility, but also challenges with power moving away from the traditional command and control of emergency services. 

This research provides a clearer path for emergency service agencies to best-utilise these technologies for and with communities, helping to increase volunteering sustainability, community engagement and disaster resilience.

Billy completed his CRC PhD in 2016 at the University of Sydney.

Further reading

Haworth B (2016), Assessing the potential, application, and implications of volunteered geographic information in disaster risk reduction, PhD thesis, School of Geosciences, Faculty of Science, University of Sydney. 

Haworth B, Whittaker J and Bruce E (2016), Assessing the application and value of participatory mapping for community bushfire preparation, Applied Geography 76, pp. 115-127.

Haworth B (2016), Emergency management perspectives on volunteered geographic information: opportunities, challenges and change, Computers, Environment and Urban Systems 57, pp. 189-198.

Haworth B, Whittaker J and Bruce E (2016), Using participatory mapping to harness local knowledge and increase community connectedness in bushfire preparation, paper presented at AFAC16, Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.

Haworth B, Bruce E and Middleton P (2015), Emerging technologies for risk reduction: assessing the potential use of social media and VGI for increasing community engagement in bushfire preparation, Australian Journal of Emergency Management 30(3), pp. 36-41.

Haworth B and Bruce E (2015), A review of volunteered geographic information for disaster management, Geography Compass 9(5), pp. 237-250.


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