Tuesday 11 January 2011


To be parsed as flu map and not flumap. Etymology aside though, whilst the following is not local government related, it is big society and NHS related, and I work in a shared service team between the Council and the NHS and so for once, the thinking which follows, I have actually been paid to do. Little good it will do me, mind :O)

#flumap, as a concept, has two strands to me. One of those strands has been neatly solved by an existing app created by two Bostonites in their spare time - HealthMap. Or at least I think it has, as HealthMap allows the tracking of pandemics and disease outbreaks across the world by searching and processing freely available data in digital format. It does rely on the use of smartphones and the take up of the iPhone app has obviously been predominantly in the US and Europe, but the simple fact remains that it can flag up seemingly unrelated outbreaks of disease quickly and for free - no resource is required. Interestingly, it is also aimed squarely at service users and not public health professionals, though there is nothing to stop public health professionals using the spewed out data to plan and respond.

Response is something I have spent the last week or so pondeirng as I got dragged into an evolving discussion locally on using social media for emergency planning and response for health. As so often happens, bright ideas don't happen in meetings inside four nondescript walls, but on the walk to somewhere - in this case in the freezing rain down to the local bus stop in order to get back to the other desk (I'll explain this mad desk hopping one day).

I wondered about a different kind of #flumap. A local one for local people. Essentially, what I'm proposing is using Facebook to create a group (or in our case hijack an existing group called BwD Winter) in order to allow people within the community to crowdsource assistance in times of emergency. So, for example, currently, H1N1 is the issue on the table. I wondered if it would be possible to use Facebook to allow people to self identify as people who required tamiflu (whether they'd been officially diagnosed or not as access to tamiflu is not restricted, I don't think, to those with an official diagnosis as official advice says to not go out in public once you start to display symtoms) and declare themselves exempt from the Data Protection Act in doing so. Then, someone (me) would map these people using Google Maps. In theory, what would then happen, is that people locally who were picking up tamiflu for someone else anyway, from a pharmacy also indicated on the map as having stock, would collect tamiflu for the person flagged on Google Maps who they didn't know, as well as the person they did - since they were going anyway.

If it were to work, it would remove a lot of pressure from the care network as well as health professionals as in times of emergency those are the shoulders most weight tends to fall on - not everyone has family around the corner who they can call on to go and collect some needed drugs for them.

So what I am really talking about is the opposite of a #flumap - I am talking about hyperlocal resilience, volunteering and crowdsourcing in order for everyone to be looked after and no one to be left out.

So my next question, of course, is would it work, do we have the resources, is this something someone else can pick up as an idea who do have the spare time and resources, does it have to be hosted by local government or NHS Trust, and how can this model, if it were to work, be used in flood situations and other emergency planning situations.

Or, you know, I could be just selling pipe dreams. Again.


  1. OK, I understand where you're coming from now, following our chat on Twitter.
    I think the principle is, obviously, great. In times of emergency, and particularly a pandemic, getting medication to people is vital.
    My main concern would be how to avoid people claiming multiple doses of medication for neighbours, but then not passing them on and stockpiling reserves for themselves. It may sound unbelieveable, but this was flagged as a risk during the last pandemic. Last year, you could raise a unique ID number from the pan-flu website, and then pass that number (through the letterbox!) to a neighbour or friend, for them to collect your medication.
    I think what you are proposing is a localised service that would allow people to volunteer to help neighbours, who wouldn't necessarily be known to them.

  2. I might be missing something but... I wouldn't want to broadcast to too many people that I'm stuck inside feeling very vulnerable. Especially if I was already isolated / excluded before coming down with flu.

    But its a great idea in principle.

    Could you use it within your orgs to map potentially vulnerable people (elderly / physically disabled / mental ill health / etc) and link with trusted staff/volunteers across organisations?

  3. Very interesting - really, as you say, not about flu as such, but about matching one person's need to someone else who can help. The flu issue is of course helpful in drawing attention to it, but really what we're talking about is a resource allocation system.

    I'd be wary of over-geeking. The things that make this type of matching fly will be: ease of registering a need, ease of registering to help, managing risks and vulnerabilities, and providing some form of incentive or feedback by way of motivation (community points? exchangeable for other things?).

    The actual mechanics of doing the matching I would suggest as secondary considerations - whether done by central administration, self-allocated by giver/taker and so on. But press on with the thinking - if anyone can make such a thing work at a local level, it's you ;)