Become a social impact investor for as little as $50.
Even if you pay only glancing attention to news about technology and social media, you've probably heard something about their uses during disaster response and relief efforts. When wildfires devastated the area around San Diego in October, 2007, citizen journalists used e-mail, text messages, and social media sites to collect and disseminate real-time information about the location of the fires, evacuation efforts, meeting places and emergency supplies.
Ushahidi, winner of the 2008 NetSquared Challenge first attracted widespread attention for their work aggregating and mapping real-time reports from victims and relief workers in the violent aftermath of the 2007 Presidential election (see Ushahidi's legacy page for an archived version of this amazing tool). The ideas and best practices generated in 2007 and beyond got their sternest test to date in the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010.
Last month, the Knight Foundation released a report titled Media, Information Systems, and Communities: Lessons from Haiti. If you're interested in disaster relief or innovative uses of technology in the Third sector, this report is well worth reading.
I also learned that text messages played a crucial role as both a one-way and a two-way communication tool, but lack of clear delineation between the two SMS short codes caused confusion and dashed hopes among aid recipients ' some of whom sent requests for assistance to the announcements-only number. Also, with so many new actors in this area, a sense of collective identity began to emerge during the crisis. The report points to the need for advanced planning, simulation exercises, and new tools to facilitate the exchange of information and best practices among emergency response technologists.
Furthermore, innovation hasn't entirely displaced tradition in disaster communication situations. Radio broadcasts were at least as important as text message announcements in communicating with disaster victims, and hybrid approaches also proved effective. For example, relief workers used radio broadcasts to tell those in need how to communicate their assistance requests via SMS. Also, traditional humanitarian agencies such as the U.S. State Department and UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) played a vital role in ensuring coordination and cooperation among organizations. At the same time, it's clear that online mapping, SMS, and real-time data collection are part of the "new normal" in disaster response scenarios.
Finally, every story involving tsunamis, earthquakes or wildfires and the like reminds us that "disasters happen" and we should all plan ahead so we can protect ourselves and our vital assets, recover quickly, and return to serving our clients as soon as possible. The Knight Foundation Report is dense with information, so if you're busy, read the Executive Summary or Melissa Ulbricht's pr├⌐cis on the Mobile Active blog. For additional commentary on the earthquake and its aftermath, check out the Haiti One Year On series at UN Dispatch.
Check out The Resilient Organization: A Guide for Disaster Planning and Recovery for more on getting your organization prepared to continue service through any disaster.
Photo: Gates Foundation
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
Close this window