Hurricane Sandy and The Possibilities Of Sensor Journalism

OK, first let’s define some terms. Here, I’m using the label ‘sensor journalism' to mean the nascent practice of deploying a large number of sensors around an area, taking readings from those sensors then compiling the readings to give an audience a picture of what's going on in the space.

Over the last few years, sensors have dropped in price and increased in capability. Units to detect temperature, light, sound, radioactivity and - crucially for this scenario - the presence of chemicals in the air and water, will keep getting cheaper. As they do secondary products and systems like Knut, Node and Cosm (formerly called Pachube) will keep developing and make it more viable to deploy and monitor sensors

It’s already beginning to happen; Air Quality Egg and Don’t Flush Me are two early stage projects to monitor air and water quality using relatively cheap sensors connected to the internet.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the East coast of the USA on Monday the 29th of October, twitter buzzed with reports and rumors of gas leaks. There were also fears, unrealistic but present none-the-less, that the storm surge near the nuclear plant in Oyster Bay, New Jersey could force seawater to the power station’s water intake system, setting up a Fukushima-style melt-down and leakage. A strong smell of kerosine lingered around the East River near 14th street in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon, and as the cleanup continues, residents near waste dumps, rivers and canals are wondering what’s in the water.

All of those stories could be augmented, confirmed, or debunked if the relevant sensors  were available and networked: We’re used to mapping weather and traffic, in the next few years we can also expect to map air and water contaminants.

There are, of course, some non-trivial pieces of the puzzle that need to get into place: Even the smallest and most efficient sensors need power. If they need to send information back to base over wifi or cellular networks, they need even more electricity, but when Hurricane Sandy hit, the electricity went out to plenty of areas. Battery technology is getting better, but if the relevant model is to deploy sensors and leave them in place, power is going to be a challenge. 

Further Reading

The Internet Of Things on wikipedia

What Do Open Networks Mean For Journalism? by NPR Product Manager, Javaun Moradi

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  4. noyorole reblogged this from futurejournalismproject and added:
    OK, first let’s define some terms. Here, I’m using the label ‘sensor journalism’ to mean the nascent practice of...
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    I think it’s a logical extension to move beyond database journalism to journalism that deploys its own network to build...
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    I think a better term for this would be “telemetric journalism,” but yes this is cool.
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