Haiti: Taking Stock of How We Are Doing

Day 25. Volunteers have mapped almost 2,500 reports on Ushahidi-Haiti with about half coming from urgent and actionable text messages. The site was launched just hours after the earthquake. Since then, some 300 volunteers in Boston, DC, Montreal, Geneva, London and Portland have been trained, including some members of the Haitian Diaspora, to continue mapping around the clock. But tracking how responders are using Ushahidi at a tactical level has been a challenge—one that is nicely summarized by Clark Craig with the Marine Corps:

“I cannot overemphasize to you what the work of the Ushahidi/Haiti has provided. It is saving lives every day. I wish I had time to document to you every example, but there are too many and our operation is moving too fast. [...] I say with confidence that there are 100s of these kinds of [success] stories. The Marine Corps is using your project every second of the day to get aid and assistance to the people that need it most. [...] Keep up the good work! You are making the biggest difference of anything I have seen out there in the open source world.”

Because humanitarian operations are moving so fast it is difficult for even the responders themselves to document each instance in which Ushahidi saved a life or relieved suffering. So if the primary responders can’t keep up, you can imagine just how difficult it is for us to document who is responding to what, where and when.

LtGen Blum, 2nd in Command, NORTHCOM visist Situation Room
LtGen Blum, 2nd in Command, NORTHCOM visits Situation Room

So we’ve done our best to solicit feedback from a number of individuals/organizations. Some of them have asked not to be quoted publicly. So the feedback below may not include the person’s name. Some of the feedback below reached us indirectly via online news or public speeches.

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The technology community has set up interactive maps to help us identify needs and target resources. And on Monday, a seven-year-old girl and two women were pulled from the rubble of a collapsed supermarket by an American search-and-rescue team after they sent a text message calling for help.” Clinton does not actually refer to Ushahidi in her speech but Ushahidi is the only interactive mapping platform that maps incoming text messages that are urgent and actionable in near real-time.
  • Lieutenant General Blum, 2nd in command at NORTHCOM: “You are doing a remarkable job. We all need to learn from you.” LtGen Blum changed his schedule to personally visit the Ushahidi-Haiti Situation Room at Tufts University. He gave “Awarded for Excellence” coins to all present.
  • Craig Fulgate, FEMA Task Force: “[The] Crisis Map of Haiti represents the most comprehensive and up-to-date map available to the humanitarian community.”
  • [Name not public], FEMA Task Force: “No matter what anyone else tells you, don’t stop mapping, you are saving lives.” (Conference call to Ushahidi).
  • Daniel Friedman, Office of Coordinator for Reconstruction & Stabilization, US State Department: “Just wanted to thank you guys and let you know I’ve found your mapping to be really helpful to what I’m trying to do here.”
  • [Name not public], Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, (OFDA) at USAID: “Your work has not only been a) inspiring, but also b) incredibly helpful to so many in this relief effort. Incredibly grateful for all you do.”

We have also received official letters of support for our Ushahidi deployment from the World Food Program (WFP), Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI) and InSTEDD. These letters outline how critical the Ushahidi platform has been for the humanitarian operations.

In terms of individual success stories, we got these from the Marine Corps:

“Here is one from the 22 Marine Expeditionary Unit: ‘We had data on an area outside of Grand Goave needing help. Today, we sent an assessment team out there to validate their needs and everything checked out. While the team was out there, they found two old women and a young girl with serious injuries from the earthquake; one of the women had critical respiratory issues. They were evacuated.”

“Based off some information that we received from Ushahidi, we inserted the recon platoon this morning to check out a remote village that was listed in some of the blogs.  We are now in the process of medevacing two local nationals who would not have received medical treatment in time for life or limb had we not found them.”

Sometimes we find success stories in the news, like this one from the Irish Times:

“[Conneally] also quickly recognised the value of another social media tool being deployed in an earthquake zone for the first time. This is www.Ushahidi.com, a website first developed to aggregate violent incidents in Kenya after the last hotly contested elections. Ushahidi is a Swahili word for witness. People throughout Haiti have been able to use e-mail, Twitter or SMS to report food and water shortages, violent incidents and people trapped under the rubble, thus providing a unique community-driven view of the geographical spread of the disaster and where the needs are. Conneally is a big fan, and cites examples of its success in Haiti including the discovery of a hospital that had survived unscathed but was receiving no patients; in another case the Red Cross took just 20 minutes to respond to a post about a need for fuel for a generator at a health clinic.”

Our own volunteers in the Ushahidi-Haiti Situation Room at Tufts have also documented a number of success stories. According to Roz Sewell, head of the SMS Ushahidi Volunteer Team,

“We also know that two days ago the World Food Program delivered food to an informal camp of 2500 people, having yet to receive food or water, in Diquini to a location that Ushahidi had identified for them.” Roz herself wrote this blog post on one of her success stories.

Another Ushahidi volunteer, Anna Schulz, has played an instrumental role in providing the Search and Rescue Teams with critical geo-location support. She has identified GPS coordinates for several dozens locations thought to have people trapped under the rubble. You can read about some of her work in this blog post.

Individual Report on Ushahidi
Individual Report on Ushahidi

In terms of individual reports, we haven’t been able to go through all of them but some of the ones below demonstrate how the “feedback loop” was closed on a number of alerts:

Some of the organizations tracking the Ushahidi map/feed include the following:

  • Red Cross
  • Plan International
  • Charity Water
  • US State Department
  • International Medical Corps
  • AIDG
  • USAID
  • FEMA
  • US Coast Guard Task Force
  • World Food Program
  • SOUTHCOM
  • OFDA
  • UNDP

There is still much to be done. Three of our current priorities are:

  1. Upgrade the “Get Alerts” feature on Ushahidi-Haiti in order to allow users to subscribe to specific indicators or key words in addition to the existing ability to specify the geographic area of interest.
  2. Work with the Crisis Mappers Group to update the categories/indicators being used to map Haiti. As the emergency phase shifts to early recovery and post-disaster reconstruction and development, new categories/indicators will be needed.
  3. Scale up capacity building workshops for members of the Haitian Diaspora in Boston.

Given that Ushahidi-Haiti was launched at The Fletcher School, I wanted to share that one of our Alumnus, Jan Olaf, class of 2001, was killed in the earthquake. He was with the UN and incredibly dedicated to Haiti. One of his close friends wrote me this when we learned the news on January 21st:

“Patrick, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to honor the loss of a fellow Fletcherite who was in Haiti working for the UN, but from the work that you are coordinating with the help of others at Fletcher.”

20 Responses to “Haiti: Taking Stock of How We Are Doing”

  1. My partner and i enjoy utilising Twitter and also Facebook also, My husband and i seem to dedicate the majority of my free time after job checking these websites!

  2. Its high time ti rebuild HAITI at this moment. So i wanna mention a man who is always beside us.
    Charles Henri Baker (born June 3, 1955) is a Haitian industrialist and former Haitian Presidential Candidate. Baker was a candidate for president in Haiti’s 2006 election. He initially billed himself as an independent and allied himself with the Komba de Chavannes Jean Baptiste and Evans Lescouflair party.
    Thank you

  3. This was one of the most well documented blog entries I have read in a long time. It was a pleasure to fill all the gaps I had about this topic. Well written an concise.
    Thankyou.

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