David O’Donnell is a Director at Salesforce Ignite, the design thinking and strategy group inside CRM and business intelligence company Salesforce. His project resulted from a collaboration with non-profit NeverAgain.org, whose mission is to bring the best available technology and situational awareness to people in danger, so that they can find paths to safety.
The Ignite and NeverAgain teams had just finished the project kickoff meeting when Hurricane Harvey was forecast to hit Houston. Recognizing that talking to people in real-time who were being affected by a disaster could vastly improve the tool’s functionality, they mobilized to start their initial research right away, utilizing dscout to create a series of missions to get people on the ground sharing their stories.
On putting together a research approach and methodology in a timeframe greatly accelerated by the occurrence of a disaster…
David: We were a week into the project and the news started talking about Hurricane Harvey. And we knew that if it was possible to get feedback from people live, or close to live, updates from people who were in the situations we were trying to model for, that it would be invaluable and extremely helpful to the research.
So we put the project into the field very, very quickly. We were already very familiar with dscout as a tool, which was incredibly helpful because it allowed us to get the project in place amazingly quickly.
We’d recruited scouts in the path of the hurricane before Irma made landfall, and they were describing to us in real time what was happening as the hurricane made landfall. We were simultaneously watching reports from scouts come in about the same time as we were seeing events unfold on the news.
On the range of responses…
With Irma, a lot of the people we were talking to had evacuated. They were totally connected, totally safe, but really wondering what's happening to my house? What's happening to my neighborhood? The tool is designed to encourage people who should to evacuate and then keep them apprised of what's happening. Because the news is showing only the most dramatic, worst stories.
And those that were in Florida during Irma, the ones we talked to, many of them were sitting with their families waiting, listening to the news. My fundamental question for the mission was, what's happening? Do you feel safe? What are your sources of information? What are those sources telling? To what degree are those sources helpful or not helpful?
It was actually a time when they could be reflective, and speak articulately about what was happening. Then when the power went out and the cell towers went out, we didn't get any posts. With Harvey, we talked to people during the immediate aftermath. They were still dealing with effects, coming back to their houses after having evacuated, and just seeing the damage.
In general, having the video capabilities and the virtual experience of being in the field was invaluable. One guy, in Houston, submitted a series of different missions about his experience. He was literally in water up to his chest walking out of his house with his cat. He was on his roof for 16 hours. It gives you a really visceral sense of why this kind of product is needed.