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CGA and Humanity Road Use Social Media To Save Lives

by Stefanie Senkow
June 27, 2018

CGA and Humanity Road Use Social Media To Save Lives Social media and saving lives. One wouldn’t think the two go hand-in-hand but for two passionate faculty members at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and their team of dedicated cadets, the concept of monitoring social media channels to aid Coast Guard decision makers in search and rescue missions is making waves.

With the pending forecast of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, Academy professor LCDR Kimberly Young-McLear, Ph.D. and LT Chris Verlinden, Ph.D. mentored cadets Evan Twarog and Gabrielle Auzenburgs to activate a digital humanitarian network in partnership with hundreds of Humanity Road volunteers to monitor Facebook and Twitter for 72 hours to aid in search and rescue efforts. In addition, the team supplied Coast Guard officers with crucial ESRI ArcGIS mapping products that assisted in locating distress calls. Then Mother Nature put this team to the ultimate test as Hurricane Irma unexpectedly followed on the heels of Harvey and the Academy team sprang into action, quickly recruiting a multilingual team of over 100 cadets from all different class years and all different majors to support this double storm surge and augmenting Humanity Road volunteers.

First class cadet (1/c) Evan Twarog, who acted as the communicator during the project, describes the experience as overwhelming but fun. In the midst of the disasters, Twarog was relaying important mapping information to Coast Guard search and rescue coordination centers based on distress data collected via social media.

“This was heavy-duty work, but it was rewarding. This is exactly why I joined the Coast Guard,” says 1/c Twarog, reflecting upon his opportunity to apply his classroom skills to real-world Coast Guard operations.

“The participating cadets had the opportunity to experience the direct applicability of their systems thinking, data science, and visualization education in courses like Organizational Cybernetics (Engineering), Geospatial Information Systems (Science), to saving peoples’ lives,” said LCDR Young-McLear.

The astounding team of 100-plus cadets and sponsoring faculty members worked tirelessly through both hurricanes, making the Academy the first Coast Guard entity to monitor social media for a major hurricane operation. This initiative was recently honored with the 2017 Captain Niels P. Thomsen Innovation Award for Culture Change. Their research efforts will continue with Humanity Road throughout the academic years in formal education as well as a club, called the CGA Digital Humanitarian Team. The team has already been invited to contribute social media policy discussions at the Coast Guard headquarters level.

“This wasn’t about social media; this was about moral courage,” said LCDR Young-McLear in reference to this monumental undertaking. “This is an example of interdisciplinary inclusion, diversity at its finest with cadets, faculty, and non-profits joining together from all classes with a passion to serve.”