Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Information Architecture of Emergency Response

Now that I have been accepted into the Pratt Institute Masters of Library and Information Science program, I have started a journey to document the convergence between two of my favorite disciplines, Geographic Information Systems and Information Architecture. In the past few months, I've noticed an explosion of conferences and meetups addressing the geolocational aspects of digital applications for the web and especially mobile. I am a member of 16 different Meetup groups, eight of which address some aspect of the User Experience umbrella, four of which specialize in mapping and/or GIS, two somewhat general technology groups and two more that approach these disciplines from the fascinating perspectives of digital semiotics and data visualization and infographics. Each have hosted topics on user experience and location based design at some point. Many maddeningly scheduled for the same evening.

Commiserating with some of my colleagues with whom I helped create the NYC GeoSymposium 2001-2011-2021 back in November, we have found that in each of our practices, cartographers, GIS specialists and those working with visualizing location based information are finding a great need for design assistance. This seems natural, if somewhat belated and perhaps even surprising. Think of some of the most beautifully designed images and one must of course reflect on the maps of National Geographic magazine, those gorgeous squares of folded paper that come in every issue. Certainly, there is a longstanding sensibility around the design of useful and pleasing maps. Increasingly, these maps are in our hands on tablets and smart phones, so optimizing the display of information that used to be represented in enormous, rolled or folded pieces of paper is a challenge for our community.

Let's Talk About Maps

So I am doing my part in continuing this discussion of the place for design in online mapping. In March, I presented a talk in New Orleans at the 2012 IA Summit on The Information Architecture of Emergency Response. The presentation explored the evolution of technology in emergency response, with a special focus on advances in geographic systems, incident management, social media and policy in New York City since September 11, 2001. In it, I cover questions like:

  • What technologies do emergency responders in NYC use?
  • How have events like 9/11 and other incidents influenced technology advances?
  • What effect, if any, has the change from a Law Enforcement Mayor to a Media Mayor had on data policy?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities of open government data?
  • How is social media being used in NYC and elsewhere to engage the public in emergency preparedness and response?
  • And, finally, are app contests and hackathons an effective way to improve public services in difficult economic times?

I reprised the presentation, modified somewhat for an emergency responder audience for the Office of Emergency Management's annual Women's History Month Breakfast, where I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Dr. Irene Osborne of Mount Sinai Hospital, who treated patients' internal injuries during the Haiti earthquake, and IA Institute founder and Development Manager, Bev Corwin, who presented on language translation in crisis situations, in particular a handheld Creole language translation device that she developed with colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University.

Continuing the Discussion

I have been asked to present another redux of Information Architecture of Emergency Response at the IxDA NYC's July meetup. I hope to conclude the IxDA with a Town Hall discussion of how the IA community can support emergency response efforts throughout each of our own neighborhoods. I ran out of time in New Orleans and would like to get a good conversation going with the UX community on issues and ideas for further exploration. My daughter's 6th grade graduation is June 7, so I will be missing the IxDA meeting that focuses on the Social Lives of Maps, with UX designer Ray Cha and Green Map's Thomas Turnbull. But I understand the GIS community will have someone there. If you attend, please introduce yourself to Jack Eichenbaum, who founded GISMO, a 20+ year old, NYC-based GIS user group. In the meantime, stay tuned for RSVP information for the July event.

It may also be interesting for my UX friends to hear (as I've heard through the grapevine) that ESRI, leader in GIS software, is developing an internal UX practice and should be hiring soon.

Slide decks of my IA of Emergency Response talks are now available at Slideshare:

March 23:
March 28:

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