New Technology Helping Disaster Victims

On September 8, 2010, in Featured Posts, General, News, by with SRA International

This one falls under the Response to Emergencies aspect of AWARE. Many of us are aware of the role EDXL-HAVE played in the Haiti disaster. The article below has more insights into how modern technology is helping disaster victims through texting, interactive maps and remote language translation services.

Recent disaster relief efforts involve not only the traditional, on-site help of responders and volunteers, but also remote groups of tech-savvy people.

In an article on the BBC website, Jamillah Knowles says Crisis Commons is one such organization that used new technologies, such as texting and interactive mapping, to help with this year’s Haiti earthquake relief effort. “For instance, it has helped beef up the search capacity of the Open Street Map project,” says the article.

Open Street Map is a project that aims to become a world map that anyone and everyone can contribute to. Following January’s earthquake in Haiti, an Open Street Map of capital city Port Au Prince “was so comprehensive that urban search and rescue teams on the ground started to download it as it suited their needs so well,” Knowles writes. The map allowed volunteers to identify hospitals, roads, or damaged buildings, the kind of information that first responders on the ground find invaluable.

Crisis Commons also helped out by finding a whole global network of Creole-speaking people to help communicate with Haitians during the crisis. And their “Mission 4636” project allowed people to submit requests for emergency aid and report their location simply by sending a text message to 4636.

The recent floods in Pakistan have generated requests for people to translate for Pakistan, via Crisis Commons and Open Street Map. Meanwhile, short-term projects known as Crisis Camps have allowed Crisis Commons to help provide developers for the Sahana disaster management system, Drupal development for the Disaster Accountability Project, and has helped locate information and translate messages, says the article.

To read the BBC article click here:

Non-profit social media expert Beth Kanter posted an interesting analysis of social media’s role in emergencies on her blog yesterday.

Indeed, the geo-platform Ushahidi, which allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile devices, assisted many survivors, aid workers, and organizations during the Haiti crisis (most would say it played a critical role). AWARE Forum did a spotlight on the crowdsourcing phenomenon back in June.

However, the question is whether or not social media is becoming a viable outlet for all sorts of other disasters, crises, or emergencies? Can the Ushahidi effect extend to our daily lives?

According to a new American Red Cross survey, 49 percent of web users would either “probably” or “definitely” use social media to “let loved ones know they are safe.” Also, 69 percent of web users expected emergency responders to be “monitoring social media sites” to send help; in fact, 74 percent expected help within an hour of their tweet or Facebook post.

This is a brand new phenomenon, and it’ll be interesting to see how emergency responders adapt within the next couple of years (especially in conjunction with traditional 9-1-1 calls). The rise of social media has given the general public a viable and extremely fast way of broadcasting their status—good or bad—to their family and friends, but there are few cases where such status updates have been used for such utilitarian purposes.

Twitter was originally started as a quick SMS service within small groups, to the great benefit of fire departments: now are they ready to listen outward?

For the original article on Beth’s blog, go here.

Let us know in the comments what you think: is social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) a viable option for emergencies updates and responses in your daily life?

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What to Do When the Next Global Crisis Strikes? Crowdsource!

On June 25, 2010, in News, by with SRA International

I met Patrick Meier at last week’s Twitter Chirp Conference and was immediately intrigued by his card, which read: Ushahidi, Crowdsourcing Crisis Information. Ushahidi means “testimony” in Swahili. The platform, which is completely free and open, was initially developed in early 2008 during Kenya’s post election fallout as a way to map reports of violence.

“We threw up a Google map of Kenya,” says Meier. “We got a short code 6007 with Safaricom (a Kenyan mobile operator), which meant that anyone in Kenya could text in their observation saying I just saw a riot, I just saw a person getting beating up and then we’d be able to geo-locate that and have a completely transparent map that anyone could access and see what was happening.”

After seeing the traffic grow to 45,000 users from Kenya alone, they knew they were onto something.

Come January 12, 2010, a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. Within 48 hours of the earthquake, Josh Nesbit of FrontlineSMS:Medic and Katie Stanton of the U.S. State Department convinced DigiCel, the largest telco in Haiti, set up a short code – 4636 – (much like our 911) that people could text for help. Anyone in Haiti could text their urgent life and death situation with their location, and Ushahidi would map that information.

Read more at:

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How a Tweet Brought Makeshift 911 Services to Life in Haiti

On January 29, 2010, in News, by with SRA International

Haiti’s earthquake devastated not only lives, but whatever emergency services the barely functioning government had to offer. However, in less than seven days, a makeshift version of 911 sprung to life.

For more information click here:

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