Nicholas Tenhue - Open & User Innovation in Crises


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Nicholas Tenhue - Open & User Innovation in Crises

  1. 1. Open and User Innovation during theFukushima Nuclear Crisis Nicholas Tenhue 881221-T574 1
  2. 2. Contents1. Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 32. The Event ........................................................................................................................................ 33. Government Reaction ..................................................................................................................... 44. The Community Reaction ............................................................................................................... 44.1. Social media ................................................................................................................................ 54.2. Making Sense of Official Radiation Data ................................................................................... 5 CASE STUDY A: Japan Radiation Open Data .............................................................................. 54.3. Data Visualisation ....................................................................................................................... 6 CASE STUDY B: Rama C. Hoetzlein ............................................................................................ 74.4. Crisis maps .................................................................................................................................. 74.5. Open Source Hardware ............................................................................................................... 8 CASE STUDY C: Safecast ............................................................................................................. 95. Conclusions ................................................................................................................................... 106. References ..................................................................................................................................... 13 2
  3. 3. 1. IntroductionIn recent years the world has seen a number of natural disasters and human generated crises;the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, 2001 Twin Towers attack, 2008 Cyclone Nargis, 2010 Haitiearthquake just to name a few. There are usually a number of systems in place to helpgovernments and official bodies react appropriately to disaster situations. Unfortunately,these systems are not always totally robust and they can fail. Information is not alwaysreadily available to people or places that need it. In some cases the information coming fromofficial sources can be inaccurate, or important facts may even be withheld intentionally.Sometimes official bodies simply cannot cope with the situation by themselves.This report focuses on the types of open and user innovations that occurred due to theFukushima nuclear crisis and how we might be able to better facilitate innovation in futuretimes of crisis. The paper is structured in the fashion described as follows. In Section 2, thesequence of events that led to the nuclear crisis is described. Section 3 has an overview of thegovernment’s response to the nuclear crisis. In Section 4, community reactions to disastersare touched upon, then depth descriptions of the types of open and user innovations duringthe Fukushima nuclear crisis are presented; this includes a number of case studies of notableexamples. Information for these case studies was obtained through a combination ofinterviews with the developers, innovators, and their websites. In Section 5, conclusions aredrawn about what happened, and possible ways that we can encourage and enable users toinnovate in future crisis situations are discussed. 2. The EventAt 14:46 JST on 11th March 2011 a 9.0 Mwearthquake occurred off the coast of the Tōhokuregion of Japan causing a tsunami, this led to massdestruction across the coastline. This resulted in therelease of radioactive isotopes from the Fukushima-daiichi nuclear power plant(福島第一原子力発電所) [1]. Pumps that circulated coolant throughoutthe nuclear reactor failed, and as a consequence thereactors began to overheat. Efforts to counter thisreaction were too little too late and a number ofreactors went through a full meltdown. Severalhydrogen explosions occurred within the structuresthat house the reactors, causing releases ofradioactive fallout. The radioactive materialscaesium-134, caesium-137, and iodine-131 were Figure 1 – A map of the earthquake’s intensityreleased [2]. Soon after the disaster, trace amountsof these materials could be detected around the globe. Even as recently as August 2012 fishwere caught that had 250 times the government safety limit of caesium [3]. 3
  4. 4. 3. Government ReactionThe government had numerous crisis response systems in anticipation of such a disaster.Some, such as the Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) [4] system, executed as anticipated, andthe proper warnings were raised. However, the radioactivity reporting systems functionedless effectively than they should have. The System for Prediction of EnvironmentalEmergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) [5] performed badly, as it failed to predict thediffusion of radioactivity due to power shortages to sensors and other factors. Thegovernment reaction to the disaster came under scrutiny when they failed to inform the publicabout the severity of the accident [6] and that vital information was not readily available.Official radiation data was available from MEXT, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports,Science, & Technology in Japan (文部科学省) [7], through their website. The data came fromsensor stations around nuclear facilities dotted around Japan. Yet, documentation of historicalvalues was not available to the public from official sources at this time. This lack ofinformation, combined with distrust of information from the government led to a number ofinnovations from independent groups and individuals. This year it was revealed that theJapanese government did not even keep records of a number of major decision makingmeetings following the quake [8], although keeping detailed records is considered vitalduring disaster situations. 4. The Community ReactionIf we look at disaster situations throughout history we can see examples of how people aredetermined to assist others, give support, and attempt to better the situation in extraordinaryand inventive ways [9]. We can see benevolent goings-on during all stages of disasterrecovery within local communities [10], the events that unfolded after the Tōhoku were nodifferent in this respect. The very same kinds of benevolent acts can be found within onlinecommunities, too [11]. Information technology and the internet afford new modes ofcommunication and collaboration during crises; unfortunately the efficacy responses are stillnot fully realised. New tools are allowing the public to not only consume, but also to produceand share their innovations, using our cognitive surplus for the better [12].The online community was shocked and surprised by the events of the tsunami and nucleardisaster that followed. The public wanted to get a better idea of what the consequences of theradiation escaping from the Fukushima nuclear power plant meant. In crisis situations gettingthe right information is vital. Unfortunately, the information coming from official sourcestended to be hard to understand or hard to reach. The public came up with a number ofinnovations during the Fukushima nuclear crisis, both within Japan and the internationalcommunity. The open and user innovations occurred on different timescales, some happenedmere days after the disaster, while some only really took off many months after theearthquake. Independently functioning people and groups had a very powerful effect with thecounter disaster systems they developed. Looking into how and why each and every systemcame into existence would be a colossal task, but by looking at the types of responses thatoccurred, we can try to understand what happened. The following sections highlight theactions that were taken by the public in an attempt to satisfy their needs. 4
  5. 5. 4.1. Social mediaMembers of the public tend to circulate official responsesamong themselves through peer communication. They canalso feed information directly from effected areas. This wasdone primarily through the medium of social media.According to a number of reports people were very effectivein their use of social media after the earthquake [13, 14].Telephone networks were disrupted and suffered greatly due Figure 2 - Japanese flag with the topto excess traffic, thus people resorted to social media. trending #prayforjapan hashtagPeople tended to use services that they were already familiarwith. Facebook [15], Twitter [16] and Mixi [17] were all popular platforms during the crisis.In fact, the number of re-tweets shot up by twenty times the normal level directly after theearthquake [18]. Twitter is popular as an ad-hoc crisis communications platform because ithas fast information delivery with a selectively transparent user base [19]. By using hash tagsusers and developers could communicate effectively. The end result was a platform thatallowed developers to form active projects and let users know about them. Communication isessential in times of crisis, and general social media served that purpose better than any othermode of communication. 4.2. Making Sense of Official Radiation DataAs mentioned previously, official sources had made data available to the public. But, therewere a number of issues with getting the data in a usable form. The following case studyhighlights one situation where an individual took matters into his own hands and made usabledata for all to access.CASE STUDY A: Japan Radiation Open DataA User Experience Designer and Information Visualisation enthusiast from Germany calledMarian Steinbach was shocked by the tsunami and nuclear catastrophe. He wanted to knowwhat the radiation readings that were coming out of Fukushima really meant. He has theinitiative to take action almost as soon at the accident occurred. When looking for datasources, he came across the website for the SPEEDI sensor network [5]. Data was availableto the public, but there were two main problems. The site was attracting massive traffic, sothe heavy load stopped the page from loading. Also, no documentation of historical valueswas available, so nobody could compare values across time. Marian reached out to otherdevelopers to discuss ways they could let people know whether they were safe or not.In response Marian set out to develop a method to get machine readable data on the incident.He created a Google Docs spread sheet [20] and manually updated the radiation values every20 minutes. This was, of course, quite cumbersome, so he asked a number of people aroundthe globe to assist in this effort to share the workload. People were willing to help, and theradiation values were being updated around the clock. There were a few problems withmalicious users that would add false results and destroy data, hence some data was lost. Adecent version control system would have been necessary to manage edits properly. 5
  6. 6. In the meantime Marian wrote a web scraper (web data extraction tool) to automate theprocess of copying the values from the official SPEEDI network. He then sourced values intoa database that he then published as an open data download. The database can still be foundat his website [21], which is still updated with the most recent data values as they arereleased. What started out as a crowdsourcing exercise, evolved into a data extraction andstorage one. Even after this shift, people still tried editing the Google spread sheet long afterthe data was being automatically recorded. This was due to poor communication channels.Even though Marian released all available historical values to the public, many sensorstations (specifically the ones closest to Fukushima-daiichi nuclear power plant) did notreport any values due to technical issues. They did not start to report values until around Q12012. More recently the SPEEDI network website has added a ‘monitoring data download’link to allow the public to access historical values, however the site only allows people todownload statistics from one sensor at a time with a maximum data range of six months .There were a number of derivations that were born from ‘Japan Radiation Open Data’. Anumber of people were able to make visualisations and, some were even able to confirm thatthe development of radiation levels were concurrent with the half-life of the types ofradioactive isotopes that were believed to have been released.Similar web scraping efforts of official sources were also made by the ad-hoc group‘radmonitor311’ [22], who deserve a notable mention. 4.3. Data VisualisationRepresenting raw data in a meaningful way is essential; otherwise we cannot make any senseof it. This is where data visualisation plays a vital part. Media reports of radiation readingswere notoriously difficult for a layperson to understand. There was a great amount ofconfusion when reporting levels of radiation. Different media sources reported radiation inmillisieverts (1 mSv = 0.001 Sievert), others in microsieverts (1 μSv = 0.000001 Sievert).Some also reported per hour units while others reported per year units. It is important tonormalise comparisons so they are all based on the same scale, the media did a bad job of thisand much confusion was encountered.The inadequate mass media news broadcasts drove individuals to create their own content tohelp aid understanding of the situation. The primary objective of many innovators of datavisualisations during the nuclear crisis was accurate public education. A number of novelways of representing radiation information were developed such as ‘micro sievert’, a simplevisualisation of environmental radiation levels in the Kanto area [23], and ‘Global Pulse’,visualisations by Miguel Rios, of the global flow of tweets in the wake of the disaster [24].It should be noted that crisis visualisation has a big impact on societal reactions, thus it comeswith a large amount of responsibility to make sure data is interpreted correctly. There is a riskthat the social structure of a country could change in response to the information people haveaccess to, whether that information is credible or not. 6
  7. 7. CASE STUDY B: Rama C. HoetzleinRama C. Hoetzlein is a computer scientist and knowledge engineer working in the areas ofartificial intelligence and graphics. Troubled by the immensity of the casualties involved inthe tsunami, Rama was unable to focus on his own work. He wanted to see what he could doto help. His inspiration came from initial rough sketches of radiation levels over time createdby other user innovators, though these lacked proper radiation unit information. This, coupledwith the data available from Marian Steinbach’s ‘Japan Radiation Open Data’, led him tocreate content for the public.To begin with Rama was taking data from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)website [25] and translating it manually. This occurred for the first three days after thedisaster. He then came across Marian’s work and used the more user friendly data source. Hehoped to offer a visual way to show the risks related to radiation dosage by correlating eventsthat unfolded with actual radiation levels. A contaminant map was then posted to Wikipediaon March 17th; an updated map was also created on March 30th when further data had beengenerated. Both maps and further insight into their creation can be found at Rama’s website[26]. He also created an animated information graphic of regional effects of Fukushimaradiation for the dates March 8th to March 31st [27].By representing the data in an understandable format it was discovered that Tokyo, thecapital of Japan that lies around 200km from the power plant, was not getting significantlymore radiation than any other big city around the world. However, he was also able to showthat millions of people within a 20km (the initial evacuation zone recommended by thegovernment was 20km) to 100km radius of the plant were actually receiving levels ofradiation that are deemed unsafe for nuclear workers by international standards.Rama feels that his visualisations have had more of an effect in countries outside Japan. Bygiving real data out to the public, a lot of the scaremongering from other sensationalistsources was quelled. He was contacted by many individuals, a department of health, and evena worker on a submarine. The most rewarding feedback was from people in Japan whothanked Rama for helping them, their families, and friends.The biggest challenge for future disaster situations is getting the science correct. Typicallyopen and user innovations are done by engineers that come up with interesting ideas and wantto try them out. Unless there are professionals working within the field working on theinnovation, a lot of mistakes can easily be made. 4.4. Crisis mapsA crisis map is an open and intuitive way of letting people know what is going on during atime of crisis. The age of mobile internet has really allowed this phenomenon to kick off overthe last five years. During the Fukushima nuclear crisis, these maps were used to givereadings of radiation levels around Japan. A lot of crisis mapping efforts rely oncrowdsourced information. However, at the beginning of the disaster many of the crisis mapsdeveloped by users were in fact aggregated from government sources and international 7
  8. 8. organisations. This was due to the fact that the publicwere not armed with the correct equipment to makereadings. It took some time after the earthquake beforecrowdsourced readings really made a big impact in theradiation crisis mapping effort. The reasons for this arediscussed in Section 4.5.Cosm (previously named Pachube) supported hundredsof radiation associated feeds that helped to monitorconditions in real-time [28]. This enabled crisis mappersto access data for their maps [29, 30]. Later in the Figure 3 - Japan Radiation Mapdisaster many people joined in on this effort to createmore data points with their own Geiger counters.One issue with crowdsourced data is that it relies entirely on the honour system, where peopleare expected to supply reliable and valid results. This was not always the case, sometimesmalicious results were submitted in order to try and disrupt the system, other times peopleaccidentally submitted false values due to the fact that they did not know how to operate theirequipment properly. Nevertheless, false reports are usually easily filtered out through thesheer volume of proper results compared to false ones. This is the beauty of the crowd. 4.5. Open Source HardwareThere were a number of open source hardware developments after the earthquake; since it isa fairly novel model the main body of Section 4.5 will describe the phenomenon before goingon to describe its applications in Japan. Open source hardware is a fairly new concept that isstill in its infancy when compared to open source software. The open source hardwarecommunity is around seven years old; it is spearheaded by the Open Source HardwareAssociation (OSHWA) [31], the first organisation created to defend open source hardwareand promote best practices. The definition of open source hardware is itself still a work inprogress, it is important to note that defining what the term means is vital since licences canhave differing levels of openness. Similarly to open source software, it might take some timeand test cases for legal clarity to materialise in open source hardware [32]. Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design. The hardware’s source, the design from which it is made, is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it. Ideally, open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware. Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs. - Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Statement of Principles 1.0 8
  9. 9. There are a number of factors that have led to the boom in open source hardware. Firstly,Moore’s law [33] has allowed for sufficient technological advances to accommodate for thetypes of systems that we need for people to design and develop products by themselves.Secondly, tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC mills, soldering irons etc. havebecome more affordable. Being able to access plans without the tools to materialise themwould mean that innovators could not make anything. Thirdly, the internet has opened up awhole world of collaborative practice. Given the opportunity, people will create and share.Lastly, collaborative locations such as hackerspaces, tech shop (small factories that anyonecan become a member of and use), and fabrication laboratories (fab labs) have created a placefor shared space and tools. These places also add a knowledge layer, where people can cometogether and teach each other about different specialisations. Before there were only a fewdozen hackerspaces, but after the boom in 2009 the total number has increased to over sevenhundred hackerspaces worldwide. Public factories such as Shapeways [34] and Ponoko [35]have also opened up the opportunity to make custom products by uploading designs andhaving them made and mailed to the designer of the product.Open source hardware is very attractive to user innovators because of the fact that you do nothave to start from scratch. This applies not only to the plans for hardware, but also for opensource hardware tools. Arduino [36], a microcontroller that powers most DIY hardwareprojects, is a prime example of an open source tool that seriously lowers the barrier for entryand cuts out a lot of the time that would otherwise be spent by the user building a similardevice from scratch.In essence, by making plans available to the public a series of self-sustaining opportunitiesfor innovation can be created. If the hardware that is derived from the original open hardwareis kept open, there is a huge potential for further improvement through distributed innovation.By allowing users to adapt devices we can open a well of untapped potential in citizenresearch and development, this can save vast amounts of money when compared tocentralised research. By opening their own products companies invite a vast amount of publicfeedback, allowing for improvements in future versions of their hardware. Conversely, whendesign and construction are separated in this manner, in the case of an issue, it is not alwaysobvious whether the fault is in the design or the construction [37].CASE STUDY C: SafecastAfter the beginning of the nuclear crisis there was a shortage of Geiger counters in Japan.Demand within Japan was incredibly high, as were the prices for these detectors. Manypeople wanted to make their own readings in order to check if the levels of radiation in theirarea were within safe limits. In response there were a number of open source radiationmonitor designs released to the public [38, 39, 40, 41]. Even a huge open source hardwarecompany based in China called Seeed Studio Depot [42] launched a collaborative effort todesign an open source Geiger counter. However, one group called Safecast [43] (previouslyknown as stood out among the rest.The story started when ‘Akiba’ Chris of the Tokyo hackerspace was able to acquire tworadiation monitors through the hackerspace network. He then hacked them and connected 9
  10. 10. them to an open source hardware Arduino platform [44], fromwhich they then broadcast the data for everyone to access.The Tokyo hackerspace continued on to collaborate closelywith Safecast throughout their start-up phase.Meanwhile, Safecast worked in parallel on two projects.Firstly, Safecast (at that time used thecrowdfunding site Kickstarter to get 606 backers, raising atotal of $36,900 in order to purchase their first batch of Geigercounters. These were used with Cosm (at that time Pachube)to open source the data produced. Secondly, they partneredwith Bunnie Huang who began work on designing a cheapradiation monitor suitable for civilian use. The resultingdesign was a functional open source prototype [45] that can Figure 4 - Prototype Safecast Geiger counterbe easily programmed on a laptop by connecting the devicethough a USB port. The devices used by Safecast have been used to collect over three and ahalf million open data points since launch. It should be noted that the crowsourced data setswere not meant to replace official data, but instead provide additional context for the publicto have access to.A second round of Kickstarter funding raised $104,268 for a limited edition of the SafecastGeiger counter. They have also released mobile applications to visualise collected data oncrisis maps. The group is now moving into creating real-time maps of air pollution [46]. 5. ConclusionsThe examples above are by no means a comprehensive list of innovations. This report onlyhighlighted a small segment of all the user innovation that occurred in response to the nucleardisaster at Fukushima-daiichi nuclear power plant. It seems that nearly all open and userinnovations that arose from the crisis were concerned with creating social value througheducating people within and outside of Japan, empowering others to help, and ensuring thesafety of those near the power plant. Many solutions that people came up with were effectiveand efficient, but there are obviously many obstacles that need to be overcome if we want toenable people to respond in innovative ways to future disaster and crisis situations.Crisis innovations happen on a different timescale to what we usually see in regular open anduser innovation. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to categorise this type of innovationwithin frameworks like the phases of consumer-innovation mentioned by Hippel et al. [47].Whist the variety of challenges we face increases due to the changing landscape of oursociety (natural disasters, terrorism, and manmade accidents), so do the chances to join forceswith others through novel collaboration and communication technologies. We must find newways of conceptualising and evaluating potential uses for these technologies in crisismanagement and response [48]. 10
  11. 11. By being more open with data, Governments would be able to harness the power of thecrowd to alleviate some of pressure to do everything centrally. If official bodies canrecognise citizens as an influential, self-organising, and intelligent force, technology andinnovation can play a transformational role in crises [49]. Many people working on data fromJapan were manually extracting figures from government PDF reports and websites; this isnot efficient, especially when time for response is of the essence. There needs to be a betterformat for the release of information for decent technological innovation to take place.Twitter has become a crisis platform by accident. The powers that be have had a hard timetrying to work out how to make use of or control this fact [50]. Crisis media is definitely anuntapped fountain of information for both users and governments, and a possible target forinnovation in future crisis situations.As mentioned before, educating the public with proper facts is paramount in disaster andcrisis situations, but it is also a big challenge. Media outlets used high budgets to produceincredible visualisations of things like reactor cores but they failed to portray any substantivedata through them. This encouraged a number of people innovate with the data was openlyavailable. One of Rama Hoetzlein’s main complaints was that media sources did not use anyof the high quality informative visualisations produced by data visualisation enthusiasts.Independent sources are important when representing data from crisis situations. Bydecentralising the flow of information a broader picture of the situation can be painted. Thisis why crisis maps can be so important. Platforms like Ushahidi [51], originally a platformcreated to map reports of violence in Kenya, seem like a conceivable type of solution for thefuture of crisis mapping. Since 2008, it has evolved into a place where anyone is able tocrowsource information specifically in areas where information is difficult to obtain.Information can come from SMS, email, Twitter and other web sources can be used to gatherdata. A service like this, with proper integration across all popular social networks, is needed.It should be noted that the mode of reporting should be tailored to cultural trends andavailable technology in that area. For example SMS would most likely be the reportingmethod of choice in Nigeria, whereas people in North America would probably turn toTwitter. However, there is a need for design and social mechanisms to inspect the legitimacyof data sourced from the crowd [52]. Some form of automated mediation or double validationof crowdsourced results could be possible solutions for this issue.The crisis in Japan sparked a lot of research into radiation detection devices. An off the shelfHD webcam that was transformed into a Geiger counter, with possible applications inconsumer hardware as an open source modification kit [53], is a prime example of theinteresting innovations to emerge from this disaster. We are truly stepping into the era of lowcost detection devices.Current open hardware efforts are very much dispersed; we need to create a better structure inorder to have a well-organized response to emergencies. In terms of open source hardwareapplications for future crisis situations we can identify a number of factors that need to be inplace for successful innovation. The types of devices for each type of possible crisis situation 11
  12. 12. needs to be defined. Plans for emergency devices for these situations must be available andaccessible through understandable and usable sources. The toolkits for each geographical areashould be defined based upon the resources available in that area. Hackerspaces should beused as hubs for innovation during crises. They have played a very important role in disasterrelief over the last few years due to their huge array of skills and contacts within thehackerspace network. Since designs for new products are commonly encoded in computer-aided design (CAD) files [54], people from all around the world the can contribute tocustomising a design to fit the needs of a particular crisis. Lastly, distribution channels forgetting these devices to areas in need must be accessible.It is important to recognise that the entire pipeline for all open and user innovation in crisesneeds to be working to be entirely successful. Data collection needs to be scientificallyaccurate; users must be educated how to use hardware correctly. The hardware needs to beaccessible and functioning well. Crowdsourced data should be centralised, and efforts shouldbe made to ensure that people can reach the data. The results need to be displayed in waysthat can be easily understood. If any components are missing we end up with a bottleneck inthe problem that we are trying to solve. Getting this perfect mix of factors to fall into place ina crisis, a situation with so many uncontrollable variables, is an enormous task. Far moreresearch is required to learn how to harness the power of the crowd and citizen innovators.By opening up, governments and citizens can complement each other’s efforts for a moretimely response to disasters. By putting the correct tools and knowledge into the hands of thegeneral population, we can encourage a self-sustaining propensity for innovation in times ofcrisis. 12
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