Student April Anderson Applies Crisis Informatics Skills during Red Cross Internship

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San José State University School of Information student April Anderson has spent most her professional life helping people in crisis situations, so naturally she’s excited to find opportunities to do so in her new career in the information field.

Taking Dr. Christine Hagar’s INFO 281 Crisis/Disaster Health Informatics course in the fall 2013 semester “really opened up the possibility that I could do something as an information professional that didn’t necessarily have to be in the library setting,” Anderson said.

With a background in social work and crisis counseling, Anderson wasn’t sure when she started the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program in January 2013 where her studies would take her. But from the first week of Hagar’s course, she felt a pull toward the disaster and crisis information field, and actually applied that week for a volunteer position with the American Red Cross.

 “I feel like I’m heading down the right path now,” Anderson said.

Hagar’s class presentations, her book Crisis Information Management: Communication and Technologies, and the assigned readings made a strong impression on Anderson, especially an article about a librarian embedded with an EMT crew.

“Something about that article caught my attention,” Anderson said. “It made me feel like I could work with the Red Cross and combine my experience in social work with library and information science, and be able to bridge a certain gap,” she said.

That same semester, Anderson took Dr. Michael Stephens’ INFO 281 The Hyperlinked Library course because of her interest in the technology and social media aspects of the crisis/disaster information field.

Talking about her interests with the Red Cross volunteer coordinator, she learned of an internship open in the Disaster Operations Technology group. The manager of that group “kind of just took me in,” Anderson said, and put her through some training with FEMA.

Anderson is part of a team that uses analytical software developed by the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the Red Cross to monitor a variety of sources of information and provide actionable intelligence to other responders during a disaster relief operation.  

“We create information and mapping resources using programs such as ArcGIS,” Anderson said, “and I have been taking advantage of the online courses that they offer in order to prepare myself in the event of a disaster.” 

Anderson is taking MLIS courses in the Emerging Technologies career pathway to learn different ways of disseminating information. She notes there’s a Red Cross headquarters that focuses on using social media to glean disaster-related information from people posting on those channels, especially on Twitter, and also to relay critical information to them after a disaster.

She also volunteers at the San Diego (California) Public Library, and hopes to get a program started there in partnership with the Red Cross, such as offering emergency management training to staff or volunteers, as a way to reach the community.

With a bachelor’s in psychology from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minn., Anderson has worked in crisis shelters and residential facilities to help clients get stabilized and find work and health care. Currently she’s on call at a nonprofit center for foster youth in San Diego. Picking up shifts there still allows her time for her studies and the Red Cross internship.

Anderson expects to graduate in May 2015.

Career Tip

“People new to this field should definitely look into different ways they can use their MLIS degree … by exploring different possibilities, networking, and reaching out and talking with people.”

Influential Classes

“I found the Hyperlinked Library course to be really useful, especially the way that Dr. Stephens had us learn how libraries can reach their patrons through social media. The course introduced me to some really neat ideas that can be implemented. That was definitely one of my favorite classes. I’ve liked all of them, but that one and Dr. Hagar’s class have had a big impact and helped me move forward in a different direction.”

Tech Tips

“Learning GIS mapping is helpful, and definitely social media.”

Professional Affiliation

American Library Association

Best Conference

“I want to go to the ALA conference in Las Vegas in June.”

Favorite Blog and Website

Disaster Information Management Research Center; The Annoyed Librarian