I couldn’t miss another opportunity to extol the virtues and rise of crowdsourcing.  Devotees to the JETLaw blog may recall my earlier post and note about the crowdsourcing phenomenon.

In the wake of tragedy and mystery following the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, the international rescue effort turned to crowdsourcing.   The flight was traveling en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it lost contact with ground control and disappeared for weeks.  As rescue efforts continued to be unsuccessful in locating the aircraft debris or any other sign of the wreckage, the prospect of searching land and sea along the flight path was overwhelming.  The commercial satellite-imagery company DigitalGlobe responded by providing high-resolution satellite images to volunteers who then tagged possible wreckage, life rafts, or other unusual debris that may lead to finding the missing flight.  This process mobilized a unique global relief effort, indicating yet another benefit of the crowdsourcing model.  It allowed participants from all over the globe to contribute to emergency relief despite physical distance, and it provided more manpower to authorities already on the hunt at no cost.  Perhaps this experience will encourage emergency response professionals to integrate crowdsourcing outreach into their standard protocols.

Legal implications of this sort of global interaction are patently unclear.  Perhaps the greatest concerns are the logistical and national security issues that could come into play.  For instance, facilitating the rapid communication between authorities and volunteers necessary to generate timely responses is hard to conceive.  Who will filter out genuinely relevant finds from overly cautious (or overly optimistic) finds?  Which companies will serve as intermediaries?  Who will have direct contact with the authorities?  What if the national authorities of an involved country are hostile to outside involvement despite the emergency situation?  While these questions remain unanswered and an efficient solution is unclear, it seems apparent that the option to use crowdsourcing is worth the experimentation.


Erin Frankrone Merrick

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One Response to Crowdsourcing Disaster Relief

  1. Samantha says:

    The promise of crowdsouring in this context is encouraging. I agree that incorporating crowdsourcing into disaster relief at an international level may be complicated. But, if properly implemented, it could do lots of good!