Crowdsourcing helps plot county AED map

A crowdsourcing tournament in Philadelphia County accurately located 1,429 automated external defibrillators (AEDs). The project, detailed in the March issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, demonstrated the feasibility of mobilizing “citizen scientists” to build a comprehensive map to guide bystanders in a crisis.

Raina M. Merchant, MD, MSHP, of the emergency medicine department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and colleagues described their success with MyHeartChallenge, a research project that called on the public to photograph and report the locations of AEDs throughout Philadelphia County using a website or mobile application. The crowdsourcing tournament rewarded one participant or a team with a $10,000 grand prize for submitting the most eligible AEDs between Jan. 31 and March 27, 2012, and provided $50 prizes for identifying unmarked AEDs that had been preidentified by the study group.

Merchant et al developed a free mobile phone app and created a website for downloading submissions. Participants provided feedback through the website using a message board and social media tools.

Only fixed location AEDs were eligible. Researchers validated the information by comparing GPS coordinates on photos with building address coordinates and by comparing submissions with data on locations preidentified by the research team. Participants understood they would be disqualified if they had more than a few false entries.

A total of 313 teams or individuals registered for the tournament. Almost a third (31 percent) were students and more than a fifth (22 percent) worked in a medical profession. The majority said they participated because it was a contribution to an important cause and more than half also identified “fun” as an incentive. Ninety-nine percent of entries were validated.

Participants identified 1,429 AEDs; 44 percent of the AED locations were not known by the research team or device manufacturers and 41 percent were in private, nonpublic locations. Participants reported that finding out if a building contained an AED, finding a person within the building who could locate the AED and getting permission to see it were the major barriers.   

“[O]ur findings suggest that a crowdsourcing approach could also be used in other cities and countries to build AED databases and maps,” Merchant and colleagues wrote. “We provided the project mobile app and Web site freely, and both could easily be used in other regions as a data collection tool.”

They recommended having a better understanding of the behavioral incentives in crowdsourcing to fully engage the public in such projects. They also underlined that while the contest allowed them to map AED locations, unreported devices may still exist and the location data could become obsolete.

The results showed that crowdsourcing could provide accurate data on AED locations that could help identify areas in need of more AEDs and lay the foundation for emergency systems. They proposed the systems could be used as part of a mobile app for bystanders who witness someone in cardiac arrest and want to find the nearest AED, or by 911 responders who could direct callers to AEDs.