Global/Local Coordination for Haitian Relief and Rescue Efforts
The disaster in Haiti has galvanized all of us. Among the harrowing news reports are all the difficulties in coordinating relief and rescue efforts and getting aid to people in need. Just this morning (Jan. 20), I was reading a press release from Doctors without Borders that its plane containing 12 tons of life-saving medical supplies has been turned away three times from the Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday, despite assurances of its ability to land.
The logistical and coordination issues are truly daunting. I’ve been trying to visualize how all the different aid groups who are on the ground have been able to coordinate their efforts, particularly since there is no electricity, phone systems are down, and the mobile phone systems have been severely compromised.
Yet, you see occasional calls for help coming from the few people who do have working messaging, like the Parisian who received a text message from a relative who was still buried under the rubble and was able to alert emergency workers. How is that being done, I wondered?
Making it Easy for People on the Ground to Submit Incident Reports
It appears that in addition to the formal communication networks (mostly satellite phones) and the information-sharing protocols among emergency aid providers, there is an ecosystem of open source emergency information systems staffed by volunteers around the world that is being actively used. People in need submit requests for help; people on the ground who have updated information about resources or logistics submit reports. All of this is done via SMS, email, Web, and/or Twitter. At first, reports were coming through Internet channels only. “All of the Haitian mobile phone networks have been down, which means our reports are mainly coming through the data channels (internet). Web reports, email and Twitter are the primary ways we’ve been getting them.” (Patrick Meier/Ushahidi). Within a few days, the Ushahidi team was able to procure an SMS short code--4636--and to disseminate it throughout Haiti (over the radio, among rescue workers, etc.) so that, as the mobile phone network is coming back up, people can use the code to SMS their requests and updates.
These reports are processed in real time to validate the information; geocode the location; and map it, translate, and clarify the message and log the requests and/or updates.
Victims, reporters, and rescue workers can submit reports using any of these means:
- In Haiti, SMS to 4636 or internationally to +447624802524
- Send e-mail to Haiti@ushahidi.com
- Online at http://haiti.ushahidi.com/reports/submit
- Via Twitter with hash tag #haiti or #haitiquake
The reports are collected and translated in real time by volunteers, including 10,000 Haitian volunteers, mostly from the Haitian diaspora. The messages are coded by type (food, water, medical supplies, people trapped, medical emergency, news about people) as well as geo-coded. Then they are pushed back out via SMS, email, RSS feeds, etc. to organizations and individuals on the ground in Haiti.
I just subscribed to these alerts on Wednesday, Jan 20th, and here are a few of the 35 messages I received in just two hours:
- MARTINE PIERRE IS STILL SENDING MESSAGES ! SHE IS ALIVE UNDER THE RUBBLES AT UNIVERSITE CARAIBES located in DELMAS 29. THere are students that are still alive as well! SEND HELP.
- Innocent Renar - 27 year old is dying like most of the population in Haiti... we have used all our resources! and came to an end. Yesterday we managed to bring him to the French hospital (in Bellevue) and they dumped him back to the Hopital General this morning. He needs to have a dialasys done ASAP or he will die. Internal bleeding and cardiac arrest this morning, his blood is now intoxicated , he hasn't urinated since last Wednesday!!!.. please help him... please he needs to get to that hospital boat arriving tomorrow or be evacuated to the US..Is there anything you can do to save another life?? plz plz plz .. we are desperate...... please contact Lionel @ 3 454 0419 or Sandra 718 810 4628
- Daphney Sylvestre still trapped and alive in car in Carrefour Mahotiere#28 SW
- WFPlogistics so clos 2 airprt, can u help get help? 18°35'36.24"N, 72°16'40.37"W Othopedic clinic,needs narcotics,IV antibiotics,diesel,gas
- Riviere Froide has a collapsed school with more than 100 kids trapped. Is up a river valley that comes out at Carrefour. #haiti
- About 130 trucks (1200 gallons each) of drinking water delivered today in Kenscoff
- Midwife clinic transformed into surgery unit working with Simone Poule neighborhood #loc Taberre at rue glein #6
- Red Cross
- United Nations Foundation
- Plan International
- Charity Water
- Clinton Foundation
- US State Department
- International Medical Corps
- US Coast Guard Task Force
Local aid groups focused on particular needs (water, children, and shelter, etc.) receive updates via email, sms, and/or through daily email or print-out reports given to them by their team leaders.
Among the success stories reported on the Ushahidi Web site are:
- Maison des Anges, an earthquake-damaged orphanage with 80 children between 0 and 2 years requested food and water for the children on January 18th. The children were moved to safety and supplied with food and water. Then a subsequent request came in for more anti-diarrhea medication, more beds and tents
- Several missing people were reported and found thru the system, e.g.:
“We're looking for Marie Edmonde Deville (red T-shirt in photos). She's 31 years-old and lived in Tabarre, Gerald Bataeil Impasse des Mangues #27.”
“We found her! She’s Alive! God Bless you all!!”
- 150 children at the Foyer de Sion orphanage were running out of water. The Latter Day Saints got the message and delivered the water on the same day.
- God's Littlest Angels Orphanage also needed water desperately. It was supplied on the same day by the World Water Relief foundation which also installed a solar-powered water filtration system.
The details about each request that are provided by the volunteers who are coding and translating are incredibly good, since many of these are Haitian expatriates who have local knowledge.
Here’s an example of a chat exchange between volunteers that demonstrates the point:(12:52:55) (Dalila): I need Thomassin Apo please
(12:53:02) (Apo): wait
(12:54:53) (Apo): Kenscoff Route: Lat: 18.495746829274168,
(12:57:25) (Apo): This Area after Petion-Ville and Pelerin 5 is not on
Google Map. We have no streets name
(12:58:05) (Dalila): @Apo I thank you for ur help
(12:58:24) (Apo): you are welcome
(12:58:53) (Apo): I know this place like my pocket
(12:59:08) (Dalila): :)
(12:59:14) (Dalila): thank God u was here