Radiation crowdsourcing effort in Japan to expand with Knight Foundation support

Press Release

October 21, 2011


Safecast provides information on contamination unavailable from official sources

MIAMI – Oct. 21, 2011 An effort to crowdsource information on radiation levels in Japan in the wake of the March earthquake and tsunami will expand, with new funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Citizen scientists and researchers in Japan working with the group Safecast will receive an increased supply of sensors and measurement devices and a revamp of the software used to process and store the data collected.

In the months since the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, information about the areas and levels of contamination has been difficult to find and understand, and in some places is nonexistent, said Sean Bonner, Safecast’s director of global operations. Official data from the government and nuclear industry has been vague and incomplete, causing confusion and concern for citizens around the country, Bonner added.


“Safecast will increase transparency and accountability by gathering and displaying the information that people need to make decisions about their lives,” said John S. Bracken, Knight Foundation’s program director for journalism and media innovation. “We also hope this method for creating and disseminating data can be used to collect real-time data in other places around the world.”

"Safecast is an example of a global, agile network of experts self-organizing to converge on a problem via the Internet to provide a rapid, open and very sophisticated response to an emergency,” said Joi Ito, one of Safecast’s founders. “The use of open data in journalism and the study of the health effects is
essential and the data being collected and published by Safecast can
provide a strong base upon which we should continue to build more data
and expertise in analyzing the data.”

Since March, Safecast has collected and published close to a million individual radiation readings and installed over 60 static monitoring sensors around Japan. All the data collected has been published immediately via a CC0 designation so that it's open and free for anyone to use, analyze or cross reference with other data sets. In addition to measuring radiation in Japan, Safecast has made efforts to take readings globally to help with education and understanding of just what these measurements mean to residents of effected areas, and those nearby. An influx of radiation measurement equipment and improved data storage and visualization will help their efforts to collect this information and make it readily available to the people.

The initiative is led by an international team with experience information architecture and design, including Ito, who is also director of MIT’s Media Lab, Bonner, Jun Murai, professor at Keio University and Andrew Huang, author of Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering. The $250,000 Knight Foundation support will go to Safecast through the Momoko Ito Foundation.

About Safecast

Safecast is a volunteer organization focused on collecting environmental data through a sensor network and data submissions from the public. Currently focused on radiation levels in Japan, Safecast is committed to open data, open hardware and empowering people with information about their surroundings. For more, visit Safecast.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit KnightFoundation.org.


Safecast: Sean Bonner, [email protected]

Knight Foundation: Marc Fest, Vice President/Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677, [email protected]