The narratives that critical incident analysts will most often look at are collective ones. But there are individual narratives too. Some of those reach a public audience; some are retained within a small circle of family members and friends; many are lost. Capturing and preserving more of this material and thus enriching the store of information available for researchers and analysts is a possible area of activity in the field of critical incident study. Steven D. Sheetz, associate professor of accounting and information systems and director of the Center for Global Electronic Commerce, outlined ideas — and some obstacles he and his colleagues encountered — on creating a digital library for material on the April 16 events:
We’re a group of faculty from a number of departments across Virginia Tech, computer science, psychology, sociology, accounting and information systems, human development. The digital library for 4-16 was our biggest initiative. We tried to create an archive of the materials that came from Virginia Tech, electronic materials. We crawled the web, we put up a site where people could submit pictures. We asked people to share their stories, we tried to develop our digital library that would maintain those stories and then conducted several different analyses of the things that people gave us.
Our thought was to capture these things so that people in the future could use them to try and understand why it happened or to try and do some future research. We captured some of the poetry, pretty much all the poetry that was posted. We had a lot of news stories and things. In computer science we like to analyze texts. It fits with what we do, it’s somewhat unemotional. We have this text from news stories and blogs and we analyze that and try to see what kind of information came from that.
We had problems getting people to contribute, we had problems getting the university to agree to things like e-mail logs with all transactions associated with this tragedy so we can do a network analysis of all the communications that occurred during that time. They said no, and no might have been the right answer — we don’t want to hurt the university, that’s not what we’re about.
Where we’ve evolved to is we’re looking to develop a thing called a Crisis, Tragedy, and Recovery Toolkit. It comes in a form of a computer preloaded with a set of applications that we can distribute in the case of a tragedy, so that someone can be able to immediately start crawling the web and capturing information and allowing people to upload pictures and blogs and start a Facebook group. We had a grant recommended for funding that we call the CTR grant, and our mission is to develop the CTR toolkit which can be rapidly deployed to any situation and can help people in that situation to be able to rapidly capture information relevant to that situation and to be able to know, quickly, and to create a Facebook group and do some things that would then facilitate populating the library or the digital archive earlier in the process. These are the services we are hoping to provide within some relatively short period after event.
The toolkit is part of a CTR network where there are existing digital libraries and archives associated with other events. We want to be able to link people going through it, who are trying to figure out what to do, with other people who have already been through it and can perhaps help them to respond. These things that seem to make a difference can now be part of what we want to provide for people that are in some similar situation. And sadly we know there will be something like this happening in the future as there have been many things since that time.