Emergency management perspectives on volunteered geographic information: Opportunities, challenges and change

Billy Haworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Volunteered geographic information (VGI) refers to the widespread creation and sharing of geographic information by private citizens, often through platforms such as online mapping tools, social media, and smartphone applications. VGI has shifted the ways information is created, shared, used and experienced, with important implications for applications of geospatial data, including emergency management. Detailed interviews with 13 emergency management professionals from eight organisations across five Australian states provided insights into the impacts of VGI on official emergency management. Perceived opportunities presented by VGI included improved communication, acquisition of diverse local information, and increased community engagement in disaster management. Identified challenges included the digital divide, data management, misinformation, and liability concerns. Significantly, VGI disrupts the traditional top-down structure of emergency management and reflects a culture shift away from authoritative control of information. To capitalise on the opportunities of VGI, agencies need to share responsibility and be willing to remain flexible in supporting positive community practises, including VGI. Given the high accountability and inherently responsive nature of decision making in disaster management, it provides a useful lens through which to examine the impacts of VGI on official authoritative systems more broadly. This analysis of the perceptions of emergency management professionals suggests changes to traditional systems that involve decentralisation of power and increased empowerment of citizens, where value is increasingly recognised in both expert and citizen-produced information, initiatives and practises.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-198
Number of pages10
JournalComputers, Environment and Urban Systems
Early online date7 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016
Externally publishedYes


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