SAFECAST is a global volunteer-centered citizen science project working to empower people with data about their environments. We believe that having more freely available open data is better for everyone. Everything we do is aimed at putting data and data collection know-how in the hands of people worldwide.
I just returned home from a trip to the Safecast office in Tokyo and CERN in Geneva, where I met with the Safecast team and scientists to reflect on the past 5 years since the Fukushima disaster, and discuss what's next for the environmental monitoring organization.
Safecast spun up after the Fukushima disaster 5 years ago in Japan. An earthquake and tsunami caused a series of meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant on the east coast of Japan. Radioactive isotopes were released from reactor containment vessels as a result of venting to reduce gaseous pressure and as a result people within a 20km radius of the government-activated exclusion zone were displaced from their homes.
The founders of Safecast (Joi Ito, Pieter Franken and Sean Bonner) lived in Japan or had friends and family there and couldn't find the data they needed to understand the magnitude of the problem. The Japanese government wasn't releasing useful data and a station 200 km away from the disaster zone released confirmation of the radiation leak but not much more. The group of friends very quickly mobilized to collect data by driving around with a geiger counter taped to the window of a car. Within one day they had more radiation data points than any institution or government organization.
Due to popular demand, off-the-shelf geiger counters quickly became unavailable, so Safecast hardware and software volunteers designed geiger counter kits that they named bGeigie Nanos. Japanese citizens armed themselves with geiger counters that they built themselves and 5 years later, almost every street in Japan has been mapped. This unprecedented effort has far-reaching effects. Almost 45 70 million radiation data points have been collected from every continent. From the Arctic to the Antarctic, and even in Chernobyl, there is now a baseline so if future disasters happen, the open and free Safecast map can be referenced to understand the effects.
During my visit to the Safecast office in Tokyo, I met with volunteers that have been with the organization since the very beginning. They are as passionate now as they were the day they joined the movement. It's not easy to keep a volunteer organization motivated when not only has it been 5 years since the disaster, but that thing that you are volunteering your time for isn't something you can see. It became even more evident to me how special their organization is when I visited with citizen scientists at CERN in Geneva. Many of them asked the Safecast team how they were able to have such a strong and passionate volunteer organization for this long. There isn't one answer, but my belief is that the leaders of the organization have been consistent in their vision and messaging and haven't wavered in their commitment to the work and their fellow citizens.
What's Next For Safecast
Safecast is working on fixed data sensors called PointCast, that can be permanently affixed to buildings and other structures for constant monitoring.
They just launched the Safecast Air Quality Monitoring Beta to monitor particulate matter. The air monitoring device was designed and developed in Los Angeles where KitHub is based out of and we are keeping close tabs on the Safecast forums and in constant communication with the development team.
left to right: Pieter Franken, Dir. Japan, Rob Oudendijk, Ray Ozzie, Rips, Sean Bonner (Global Director), Kitty-Chan, Yuka
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