In Mexico, Citizens Led Better Disaster Response Than Their Government
Ana Campoy - Quartz
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October 1, 2017
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The 7.1-magnitude earthquake that jolted Mexico City on Sept. 19 unleashed an eruption of extraordinary needs.
From one moment to the next, people began to need rescue, medical treatment, shelter, water, food, safety, comfort. And, more importantly, they needed accurate information about where, amid the vastness of one of the world’s largest cities, all those needs were flaring up.
The government can’t be everywhere all the time. Citizens, however, can. Shortly after the quake, a group of journalists, activists, and techies put together an online platform to harness the eyes and ears of hundreds of chilangos, as the capital’s residents are known. The volunteers fanned across the city, some on bikes, reporting back data which were posted on a website, Verificado19S. Its goal was to “channel the desire to help to places that need it,” according to a video posted by its organizers a day after the tremor:
It’s a rigorous effort (verificado means verified; 19S refers to the data the earthquake struck), based on detailed questionnaires designed to winnow out false positives. Informants must report only what they see with their own eyes, or what they hear from at least two people who in turn saw it with their own eyes. The data are then relayed via Twitter feed and an online map that underpin “a socially-engineered citizen logistics machinery,” says Antonio Martínez Velázquez, a founder of Horizontal, one of the media outlets that helped organize the site. That apparatus has been used by thousands of people to distribute help and even save lives, he says.
... In Mexico City, Verificado19S also showed how civil society can in some ways be more adept at emergency management than elected officials - in particular, at preventing false information from spreading. In the most extreme case, senior Mexican officials told the media that a girl called Frida Sofia was alive under the rubble of a collapsed school, and granted the country’s biggest TV network, Televisa, access to the building. After some 24 hours of nail-biting coverage that made Frida Sofia a worldwide story, it emerged that she didn’t exist - a severe blow to the credibility of the rescue agencies and the media.
In contrast, Verificado19S has some 500 volunteer reporters on the ground, some of whom stay put at the same site for days, closely following any changes. The picture they paint is much wider, more granular, and a better reflection of reality.
Read the rest at Quartz
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