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:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11134297

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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Remembering the special-needs population during disaster

On February 26, 2010, in News, by with Touchstone Consulting Group

  Are emergency management teams adequately prepared to handle special-needs scenarios?

 By Elizabeth A. Davis and Kelly Rouba

 In an article that appeared in New Mobility magazine (“Are We Ready for an Emergency?” August 2009), Chip Wilson, Florida’s statewide disability coordinator for emergency management, was quoted as saying that “for far too long, people with disabilities have been an afterthought by many involved in emergency management.”

 In support of that statement, disability advocate and Mercer County (N.J.) CERT member Norman Smith, who has cerebral palsy, added that for many years, “On the emergency management side, there was the assumption that someone else was ‘responsible’ for us—an agency, an institution, a parent, or the health care system.”

 Recognizing that changes needed to be made, the National Council on Disability commissioned our organization to conduct extensive empirical research on emergency management issues pertaining to people with disabilities. The resulting report of over 500 pages examines all phases of emergency management.

 This report is the result of culling through thousands upon thousands of pages of materials found inscholarly journals, news reports, firsthand accounts, testimony, after action reports, and the like from across a variety of disciplines. We looked to works in emergency management, protective services, sociology, social anthropology, medicine (disaster, geriatrics, pediatric), transportation, housing and much more.

 The goal was to not just reiterate known or presumed gaps based in part on the lack of reporting on the issues, but to find replicable solutions and promising practices and to offer an organized roadmap for change.

 Titled “Effective Emergency Management: Making Improvements for Communities and People with Disabilities,” the report calls for significant changes in the field and highlights a number of best practices whose adoption might better address the needs of people with disabilities.

 More at:  http://www.homeland1.com/Emergency-Management-Operations/articles/764609-Remembering-the-special-needs-population-during-disaster/

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UA officials confident about alert system

On February 16, 2010, in News, by with Touchstone Consulting Group

By Stephanie Taylor Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 15, 2010 at 11:33 p.m.

TUSCALOOSA | The emergency notification system at the University of Alabama has been activated only for weather warnings, but officials are confident it can be triggered quickly if a bigger tragedy unfolds.

 similar system failed at the University of Alabama in Huntsville on Friday after a shooting at the school’s biology building. Some UAH students complained because the emergency alert text messages were sent at 4:42 p.m., 45 minutes after the first 911 call was placed at 3:57 p.m. Some students said in media interviews that they were not notified by the university at all.Professor Amy Bishop has been charged with shooting three faculty members during a meeting. No students were in the area, officials reported.

“The U-Alert was triggered late because the people involved in activating that system were involved in responding to the shooting,” UAH Police Chief Charles Gailes said at a news conference. “We’re going to stop, we’re going to sit down, we’re going to review what happened. All of these actions are going to be learning points, and we’re going to be better for this.”

More at:  http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20100216/NEWS/100219670/1003/NEWS01?Title=UA-officials-confident-about-alert-system

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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: http://www.nytimes.com/external/venturebeat/2010/01/29/29venturebeat-how-a-tweet-brought-makeshift-911-services-t-74455.html

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