NYC’s PLAN to alert citizens to danger during Hurricane Sandy

A mobile alert system put messages where and when they were needed: residents' palms.

Starting at around 8:36 PM ET last night, as Hurricane Sandy began to flood the streets of lower Manhattan, many New Yorkers began to receive an unexpected message: a text alert on their mobile phones that strongly urged them to seek shelter. It showed up on iPhones:

…and upon Android devices:

While the message was clear enough, the way that these messages ended up on the screens may not have been clear to recipients or observers. And still other New Yorkers were left wondering why emergency alerts weren’t on their phones.

Here’s the explanation: the emergency alerts that went out last night came from New York’s Personal Localized Alerting Network, the “PLAN” the Big Apple launched in late 2011.

NYC chief digital officer Rachel Haot confirmed that the messages New Yorkers received last night were the result of a public-private partnership between the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the CTIA and wireless carriers.

While the alerts may look quite similar to text messages, the messages themselves run in parallel, enabling them to get through txt traffic congestion. NYC’s PLAN is the local version of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) that has been rolling out nation-wide over the last year.

“This new technology could make a tremendous difference during disasters like the recent tornadoes in Alabama where minutes – or even seconds – of extra warning could make the difference between life and death,” said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, speaking last May in New York City. “And we saw the difference alerting systems can make in Japan, where they have an earthquake early warning system that issued alerts that saved lives.”

NYC was the first city to have it up and running, last December, and less than a year later, the alerts showed up where and when they mattered.

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The complexity of designing for everywhere

Author Rachel Hinman on the future of mobile design and UX.

In her new book The Mobile Frontier, author Rachel Hinman (@Hinman) says the mobile design space is a wide-open frontier, much like space exploration or the Wild West, where people have room to “explore and invent new and more human ways for people to interact with information.”

In the following interview, Hinman talks about the changing landscape of computing — GUIs becoming NUIs — and delves into the future of mobile and how designers and users alike will make the journey.

What is mobile’s biggest strength? What about it is creating a new frontier?

Rachel Hinman: Humans have two legs, making us inherently mobile beings. Yet for the last 50 years, we’ve all settled into a computing landscape that assumes a static context of use. Mobile’s biggest strength is that it maps to this inherent human characteristic to be mobile.

The static, PC computing landscape is known and understood. Mobile is a frontier because there’s still much we don’t understand and much yet to be discovered. There are lots of breakthroughs in mobile yet to come, making it an exciting place for those who can stomach the uncertainty and ambiguity to be. Read more…

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With new maps and apps, the case for open transit gets stronger

OpenPlans looks to improve transportation infrastructure with open data and open source code.

OpenTripPlanner logoEarlier this year, the news broke that Apple would be dropping default support for transit in iOS 6. For people (like me) who use the iPhone to check transit routes and times when they travel, that would mean losing a key feature. It also has the potential to decrease the demand for open transit data from cities, which has open government advocates like Clay Johnson concerned about public transportation and iOS 6.

This summer, New York City-based non-profit Open Plans launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new iPhone transit app to fill in the gap.

“From the public perspective, this campaign is about putting an important feature back on the iPhone,” wrote Kevin Webb, a principal at Open Plans, via email. “But for those of us in the open government community, this is about demonstrating why open data matters. There’s no reason why important civic infrastructure should get bound up in a fight between Apple and Google. And in communities with public GTFS, it won’t.”

Open Plans already had a head start in creating a patch for the problem: they’ve been working with transit agencies over the past few years to build OpenTripPlanner, an open source application that uses open transit data to help citizens make transit decisions.

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Mobile participatory budgeting helps raise tax revenues in Congo

The World Bank found the ROI in open government through civic participation and mobile phones.

In a world awash in data, connected by social networks and focused on the next big thing, stories about genuine innovation get buried behind the newest shiny app or global development initiative. For billions of people around the world, the reality is that inequality in resources, access to education or clean water, or functional local government remain serious concerns.

South Kivu, located near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been devastated by the wars that have ravaged the region over the past decade.

Despite that grim context, a pilot program has born unexpected fruit. Mobile technology, civic participation, smarter governance and systems thinking combined to not only give citizens more of a voice in their government but have increased tax revenues as well. Sometimes, positive change happens where one might reasonably least expect it. The video below tells the story. After the jump, World Bank experts talk about story behind the story.

“Beyond creating a more inclusive environment, the beauty of the project in South Kivu is that citizen participation translates into demonstrated and measurable results on mobilizing more public funds for services for the poor,” said Boris Weber, team leader for ICT4Gov at the World Bank Institute for Open Government

, in an interview in Washington. “This makes a strong case when we ask ourselves where the return of investment of open government approaches is.”

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From smartphones and continuous data comes the social MRI

From smartphones and continuous data comes the social MRI

Dr. Nadav Aharony used phone sensors to explore personal behaviors and community trends.

It’s clear at this point that the smartphone revolution has very little to do with the phone function in these devices. Rather, it’s the unique mix of sensors, always-on connectivity and mass consumer adoption that’s shaping business and culture.

Dr. Nadav Aharony (@nadavaha) tapped into this mix when he was working on a “social MRI” study in MIT’s Media Lab. Aharony, who recently joined us as part of our ongoing foo interview series, described his vision of the social MRI:

“If you think about it, the three things you take with you when you go out of your home are your keys, your wallet and your phone, so our phones are always with us. In aggregate, we can use the phones in many people’s pockets as a virtual imaging chamber. So, one aspect of the social MRI is this virtual imaging chamber that is collecting tens or hundreds of signals at the same time from members of the community.” [Discussed at 1:16]

Aharony’s work focused on 150 participants (about 75 families) that were given phones for 15 months. During that time, more than one million hours of “continuous sensing data” was gathered with the participants’ consent. The data was acquired and scrubbed under MIT’s ethics guidelines, and for extra measure, Aharony included his own data in the dataset.

Collecting the data was just the beginning. Parsing that information and creating experiments based on emerging signals is where the applications of a social MRI became significant.
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White House launches new digital government strategy

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel and CTO Todd Park say open data will be the new default.

The nation's top information technology officials introduced a bold new strategy for 21st century digital government that is built upon data, shared services, citizen-centrism and hews to consistent methodologies for privacy and security.

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