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Earth Notes: Citizen Sleuths


When we sit down to dinner, it’s easy to forget where our food comes from, besides the local grocery store. But understanding the source-to-consumer pipeline for key resources is crucial in planning for disruptions and natural disasters.

Researchers, led by Professor Ben Ruddell in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems at Northern Arizona University, are bringing an up-close-and-personal approach to improving that understanding—by recruiting local residents to help.

The project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is nicknamed FEWSION for food, energy, and water systems.

FEWSION has so far integrated a massive amount of data into maps of these large-scale distribution systems across the nation. But this big picture is full of tiny holes. It lacks detailed neighborhood-level information for food, energy, and water supply routes and how they operate in local communities.

So … Flagstaff residents are being enlisted to investigate their neighborhoods and fill in those gaps. Twelve volunteers—from undergraduates to retirees—are becoming community sleuths. In the coming year, they’ll receive training, collect data, and provide feedback to researchers and community groups.

The goal is for these citizen scientists to act as catalysts, starting conversations among business owners, elected officials, and emergency managers responsible for food, water, and energy supplies at the local level.

The hope is that initiating a supply “chain reaction” will lead to more sustainable, resilient communities.

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