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Welcome to this Ignite talk on Disaster Response 2.0. My name is Gisli Olafsson and I am the Emergency Response Director for NetHope.
For those of you who are not familiar with NetHope then it is a consortium of 32 of the world’s leading international NGOs who originally came together 10 years ago to collaborate in the area of information and communication technology.
Over the next fifteen minutes I want to talk to you about the paradox we face when it comes to information and disasters. First of all we lack the appropriate actionable information to make decisions yet we find out that in many cases that information already exists, but is not being shared between the different organizations dealing with the response.
Second of all we have during the last couple of years seen an explosion of new information sources through social media and social networks that we seem to have no way of harnessing or dealing with.
So the big question is how we can address those two paradoxes ad potentially turn them into opportunities and that is what I want to discuss with you here today.
On January 12th, 2010 all of us around the world were drawn towards Haiti. While some of us jumped onto the next available planes to help with the response, there were some who took a different approach and a new form of responders were born, which I have chosen to call the digital volunteers.
The evening of January 12th a dozen people started gathering in a dormitory at Tufts University, but within days this effort had grown to thousands of digital volunteers around the world,
In the beginning they started monitoring various social media networks such as Twitter and FaceBook as well as reports from traditional response organizations. But quickly a number of technology organizations started working together and an SMS short code was established that people could send their requests in through. Over 80 thousand messages were received, a large majority in Creole, which were translated by digital volunteers from the Haitian diaspora.
This Haitian diaspora was mobilized through various social networks, especially FaceBook groups
Together these digital volunteers mapped over 3,500 individual reports from hundreds of sources. In combination with other crowd-sourced volunteer efforts such as the Open Street Maps project, meant that a real-time situational map, which was updated every 10-15 minutes became available.
Following Haiti, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at the request of the UN Foundation and UN OCHA put together a report on the lessons learned from the Haiti digital volunteer effort. Some of the key findings of this report were that there was great opportunity in leveraging these digital volunteer communities, but that there was need to clearly establish processes and frameworks for these organizations to work together.
On March 1st, 2011 the conflict inside Libya had caused a stream of refugees appearing in the countries bordering the country. The UN OCHA, unable to get a clear picture of what was happening in and around Libya, made a bold and radical move. They reached out to a community of volunteers, born a few months after the Haiti earthquake, called Stand-by Volunteer Task Force and asked for their help in monitoring social media, traditional media and reports from response organizations. At the same time they reached out to NetHope and asked us to participate in this new approach to getting a common operational picture.
The volunteer groups, which had matured greatly since their initial experiences in Haiti, split their efforts into media monitoring, verification of results, geo-location of reports, analysis and a technology team responsible for keeping the open source solution Ushahidi up and running. Over a 100 volunteers from around the world split their work so that 24/7 coverage was achieved. Within the first week, over 500 reports had been captured, categorized and mapped.NetHope reached out to its member organizations working in the area and provided them not only with access to the system, but also encouraged them to provide information back into the system, so that a common operational pictured would be achieved. All the organizations responded positively and many of them started providing information either directly into the system or via twitter.
Other key organizations operating in the area such as WFP and UNHCR were also approached and they started utilizing the Libya crisis map to help coordinate their efforts. Everyone could see the value in having a single common operational picture of the situation.
The Libya Crisis Map proved that it was possible to break down the barriers that existed between those organizations, simply by showing them the value of having a coordinated way to share information.
But it is not enough to just focus on the response community. We must also remember who we are actually there working for and that is the affected community.
One of the big change that has happened in the last few years is the growth of social networks and social media as well as an explosion in the ownership of mobile phones. Affected communities should not only have a method to report information, like they could through the short code 4636 developed for Haiti, but also start receiving information about what is happening, especially with regards to the response itself.
This revolution in technology provides a unique opportunity we have not had before to provide the affected communities with a voice in the response and recovery process.
And not just a voice to shout out what their needs are, but also a mechanism for providing feedback about the humanitarian action intended to serve them
In order to achieve success this effort requires a partnership between the various actors in the humanitarian space, UN, NGOs and Red Cross as well as the involvement of governments, private sector, international finance institutions and regional organizations. It is through getting all of these together around a common vision that we can achieve the changes required to really leverage technology to the fullest to improve information flow between communities and response organizations.
If you want to participate with us at NetHope and other organizations that are working towards this goal and you believe that better information can save lives and alleviate suffering then please feel free to reach out to me here immediately after the talk.
Please contact us for further information.
Global Platform For Disaster Risk Reduction - Disaster Response 2.0 - Ignite Talk
Disaster Response 2.0Gisli Olafsson<br />Photo courtesy of Save the Children<br />