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A picture should be worth 1,000 words.

And, in the world of social media, graphics can help tell a story. This is especially important to both the news media and emergency managers who need to share information with diverse audiences.

Sometimes, as an emergency manager, I’m sharing information with operational responders who need very detailed views of what they might encounter as they work to accomplish a particular mission; while, conversely, I may also be giving groups of elected officials high-level summaries of activities and impacts from various geographic areas affected by the same disaster.

The graphic and visual displays must either easily tell the story themselves or they must add value in environments where data is constantly being translated into knowledge and graphics that summarize and tell better, and more succinct stories.

This leads me to my current problem with many mapping projects….they often fail to tell much of a story.

In order for a graphic display to lend value, it has to aggregate or turn the data into knowledge and/or provide some comparative analysis to its user. And while social media gives us many different dynamic data points, plotting those reports on a map individually still doesn’t tell me much of a story. Earlier this week, I saw this type of mapping referred to as “measles maps” because they give us lots of dots like a good rash, but can lead to inductive reasoning problems.

For example, if I look at 50 reports from Twitter about power outages, does that give me the parameters of the outage? Not really. And the difficulty, from an emergency management standpoint, even if all of the available data is mapped, does it give us information that is immediately actionable in crisis?

There are significant volunteer efforts that work on mapping during large-scale disasters by folks who are way smarter than I am. The digital experience of these groups is phenomenal and yet, I have yet to see the created products used by government agencies in the completion of OODA loops (orient, observe, decide & act).

And, I’m curious about why.  In my head, I wonder if it’s because:

  • The graphics don’t tell a usable story for end-users,
  • The stories told are too inductive and not organized at a deductive level,
  • Emergency Managers need to better understand mapping potential,
  • Neither side quite understands the data needs & timing for needed data in emergencies,
  • Lack of relationships and/or trust between both emergency managers and crisis mappers,
  • Or…..something else altogether…..

Your thoughts?

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