Just a quick update adding more context to the work Ushahidi is doing in response to the earthquake in Haiti.
Our general policy is to rarely get involved in launching a crisis related instance by ourselves due to capacity /expertise limitations, but we do have exceptions and this has been one of them – largely facilitated by the fact that that we have received tremendous support from the crisis mapping community through the Crisis Mapping Network, the developer community, collaborating organizations like UN OCHA Columbia, INSTEDD, Haitianquake, Digital Democracy, FrontlineSMS, Google and others, and dozens of volunteers who’ve helped with everything from data entry, to translations, to data filtering.
Since the site went live, the team has been working round the clock to make improvements to the instance, fix problems (our server has crashed several times already and our alert system went beserk!), coordinate efforts with volunteers, share information with partners, and collaborate with other tech-based efforts e.g. the people finder at Haitianquake (since merged with Google’s). The fact that we have a global team means that we have been able to offer round the clock support, with the Africa-based team taking over when the US-based team goes to sleep and vice versa.
So far our work has been covered by various international media outlets including the Washington Post, the NYTimes Lede, AFP, BBC and NPR’s Marketplace. We have received over 400 reports so far (sadly none via mobile due to communication challenges) and almost 40,000 unique hits in three days, and continue to work hard to improve our outreach efforts and address some of the technical challenges that have come up.
Already we have learned a lot about working to respond quickly to a major crisis and about the areas that Ushahidi needs to improve on technically and otherwise.
For regular reports on what is going on you can track the Ushahidi Situation Room http://sitroom.ushahididev.com/ on your RSS feeds.
Our current challenges going forward are:
- Putting up a rudimentary version of Swift River to help curate the Twitter feeds: there’s lots of information in Twitter but no way to make sense of it. Jon (our new Swift project lead) has been working hard on that and we should have something ready by Monday.
- Getting more tech / dev volunteers on board to address bugs and feature requests: there are a couple of Crisis Camps / hackathons being held this weekend and we have shared our needs with them, there’s also a hackathon being held in Nairobi today by Erik & Ken and the team of volunteer developers based there.
- Close the feedback loop: that is, ensure that agencies trying to figure out where help is needed are tracking our reports and following up on requests for help that are coming in. We are currently doing this via the Crisis Mappers network, Sahana, and Internews and INSTEDD teams who have just landed in Haiti, but a lot more needs to be done especially with the bigger humanitarian organizations who have so far not been very responsive or communicative (e.g ICRC has refused to allow external parties to crawl their people finder database and coordinate reports) and with the local organizations who have been hard to reach /identify.
- Get a local SMS shortcode /line going so that people can text in information: we are coordinating this with several groups on this under the umbrella of the US State Dept – hopefully this should happen by the end of the weekend.
- Begin to work on a handover plan: the Ushahidi team has been working on this around the clock, but this cannot be sustained for too long – it’s been intense for us even with volunteers helping, and there are a number of big ticket items on our plate internally that we cannot afford to ignore for too much longer,…so we have started having conversations about a strategy to hand the general oversight of the instance to someone else once things stabilise.
If you are interested in ways to help, here’s how you could be of assistance:
- continue to help us get the word out about the instance as a resource to your networks
- if you have any contacts with local or diaspora Haitian media or NGOs, please send them our way
- if you have contacts with the bigger humanitarian organizations, please encourage them to add us to their “information pool” and get in touch with us if they have information to share.