Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ushahidi Haiti: Impressive, Inspiring Effort

Image from Ushahidi Blog

I first posted about Ushahidi in July last year when I was captivated by the TED presentation of Erik Hersman. Ushahidi was used in the Kenyan post-election crisis of 2007-2008 where it became a place online to report incidents of violence via the web and cell phone text messages.

In August, Ushahidi stood up “Alive in Afghanistan” and crowdsourced the elections in the country. 

 Less than 24 hours after the Haiti earthquake struck, Ushahidi Haiti, a quad-lingual site is up and running (English, Spanish, French, Kreyol). An impressive and inspiring effort.  When it was 3 a.m. in Boston and the work was still unfinished, the Nigerian team took over.  The initiative is a joint effort between Ushahidi, UN OCHA/Colombia and the International Network of Crisis Mappers (CM*Net).

According to Ushahidi:  “OCHA/Colombia recently deployed Ushahidi for an earthquake response excercise so we're very grateful for their invaluable contribution to this Haiti deployment. We're completing the customization of the platform as fast as we can. Please follow @Ushahidi on Twitter for updates and help spread the word, especially to colleagues inside Haiti. Please do contact us if you want to help. Our thoughts are with the people of Haiti and with our humanitarian colleagues on the ground.”

There are currently 141 reports in Ushahidi Haiti with a good number looking for Haitian American family members. Some reports require medical assistance like a distressed 80 year old American with broken leg; addresses and phone numbers are provided but very few have been responded to so far. The website has verified several reports on hospitals that are operational, as well as the international airport.

Ushahidi is an open source project that allows users to share information during crises. Ushahidi Haiti tracks the current crisis with a map that can be filtered using the reported locations of emergencies, threats, vital lines/logistics (road blocks, water shortage, power outage), response (medical, search and rescue, shelter, others). It also features a filter for mapping survivors and deaths.  It aggregates tweets, and streams from You Tube and Flick. Ushahidi has previously done 4 major alpha deployments, including the War on Gaza, Vote Report India (to monitor the recent local elections) & Pak Voices (to map incidents of violence in Pakistan).  Ushahidi was also used to track crime in the Atlanta metro area in Atlanta Crime Maps.     

The Huffington Post reports NPR and the New York Times are both looking for ways to integrate the Ushahidi platform to cover the unfolding disaster after the Haitian earthquake.  Check out The Ushahidi team also blogged about their work in Our Efforts in Response to Haiti’s Earthquake. 

I hope the brainiacs at the Consular Affairs Bureau would take a look at this platform for the next crisis which could happen anywhere in over 200 posts worldwide. Note that OCHA/Colombia recently deployed Ushahidi for an earthquake response exercise. This could be an extremely useful addition to post-specific crisis management or table top exercise. Ushahidi could also be used to track incidents in high crime posts like South Africa, El Salvador, or Papua New Guinea.  

Please pass this on to the Secretary’s Sounding Board.

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