Essay on the need for mobile applications for volunteers in emergencies2021-08-23
Patrik Pedersen took part in a brainstorming session that Karlstad University arranged in collaboration with Drivhuset within the CriseIT project. Patrik was part of the winning (interdisciplinary) group and has built on the theme of the idea print. The result is the bachelor thesis "Mobile applications to coordinate volunteers' crisis work: A needs analysis of opportunities and challenges".
Patrik Pedersen, new alumnus from the IT-design study programme, how come you decided to write about this particular subject?
- How to use mobile applications in crisis situations is something I thought about before I even started studying, and during my years of study it has become a relevant subject. With everything from forest fires to the corona pandemic, it just came together organically.
Your conclusion is that there might exist a need for a mobile application in order to coordinate volunteer work in an emergency situation - how could this help in practicality?
- First and foremost by making emergency response more efficient in areas concerning communication and navigation. At the same time someone must administer the application after it is released, and tools such as mobile apps must be accepted by the end users.
What are the most important functions to include in this kind of application?
- In the study, three especially important functions were identified though the answers of the respondents. The first is being able to register working hours, where you can log in and out of duty. This could be connected to everything from possible time sheets for payment to keeping track of who is on or off duty.
The other function is verification of the worker. This means that the potential worker is verified through, for example, BankID or a QR code on the driving license in order to quickly receive relevant contact information, as well as being able to check a worker's police record, if needed.
The third function is a geographical limitation of information sharing, which means that the information shared is first and foremost shown to people in the area affected by the emergency.
When it comes to other important functions, it differs a bit depending on the tasks or what kind of emergencies that are being handled. From the perspective of the volunteers, messages containing short and concise information are important. Map functions are also very valuable, as the study found that they can allow a supervisor to use a map to position and keep track of volunteers who are out in the field. In search operations, for example, you could divide search areas into zones, which volunteers then could mark when searched. Then coordinates for new search areas can be entered and the search can continue without the need to contact people in person.
Another example is maps with reference points to places in the community where, in case of an emergency, there might be a need for safe spots. Information related to these places can be governed via maps. Volunteers can then cooperate with a central operation that can keep track of supplies and whether there is a need to resupply any of these safe spots.
How do the answers differ between emergency services personnel and volunteers from FRG (Voluntary Resource Group)? Or is there a main theme through both sets of answers?
- There are some similarities between how the two groups have answered, especially regarding the functionality of the application. The respondents I have used in this study collaborate with each other, so they think in similar ways and they all know what their respective duties are when push comes to shove.
At the same time, emergency services personnel may have another way of thinking where they see challenges to solve, rather than possibilities. These are things outside the scope of my study in Information Systems and have more to do with legal issues or questions that concern, for example, the administration of the application.
Are you the first to study this subject, or are there others? If so, what have the other studies shown?
- In my study, I have used previous papers that touch on the subject of Information Systems and emergency work. And studies vary depending on in what country they have been done. An emergency application or an emergency system can function in a completely different way in the US compared to in Sweden, depending on legal questions such as “what is the app allowed to contain?” or “in what manner is information sharing allowed?”. But I have read studies that touch on many similar questions and by and large my impression is that mobile emergency applications is a subject that needs to be studied more.
Is there anything you would like to continue to study in this field?
- Right now there will be no more studies for me, since I look forward to start working. But if I find a job related to my study, I would of course consider continuing with this. Right now, I think there are several areas that need to be solved before a potential application is actually put into practice.
- Mobile applications for coordination of volunteer emergency workers: A needs assessment regarding possibilities and challenges