GuideStar International's Blog

April 8, 2011

Mobilizing Online Communities in the Face of Disaster: Tips from NetSquared Local Organizers

This post was originally posted on the NetSquared Blog by Alicja Peszkowska, Network Coordinator, Community-Driven Innovation at TechSoup Global

On the 12th of March, one day after the tragic earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan Ichi – Hiroyasu Ichikawa – the NetSquared Local organizer from Tokyo sent an e-mail to our NetSquared Local Organizer listserve asking for the best practices for mobilizing online communities in the time of a disaster. In the weeks that have followed, Ichi’s e-mail provoked a series of responses from all over the world. In this post, we hope to voice many of the tools, resources, and tactics that have been shared, in hopes of encouraging others around the world to get involved with the digital relief efforts.

In response to Ichi, Paula Brantner from the Washington DC Local group suggested taking advantage of the international project called Crisis Commons that sprung into action after the recent Haiti earthquake. Crisis Commons is specifically designed to crowd source the technology needed to leverage communications in the event of a disaster, it helps in finding volunteers and is summing up all of the hand-on actions designed to support the cause.

Amy Sample Ward from the New York group has followed Paula’s e-mail with further suggestions on how and where to aggregate information. One of the online spaces she mentioned was the Google Crisis Response page where you can find the latest information about the crisis as well as make simple donations to the organizations involved in supporting the efforts in Japan. She has also provided the link to the Wikipedia page devoted to the 2011 Tokyo earthquake and tsunami. This resource is an important point of reference for everyone interested in the latest events related to the tragedy, as it has been visited and edited by a lot of people and therefore appears high in the search results.

 

Shufang Tsai from the Taiwan group shared information from one of her community members about an experience with the previous Chilean earthquake that occurred in 2010. The ideas that came from the Chile earthquake experience included setting up a situation map using Ushahidi on the crodmap.com site and asking the volunteers to search through the media news and put them all together in an easily accessible Google Doc. The information could be then added to the Ushahidi map. Other suggestions of the community member in Japan included the usage of the Tweak the Tweet to collect the information from the twitter and facebook. He has also highlighted the importance of keeping the volunteers data saved somewhere (i.e. a Google Doc).

Sarah Schacht from the group that meets in Seattle has put Ichi in touch with the representatives from Crisis Commons and suggested he should list himself at the Honshu Quake Activities @ Crisis Commons wiki. Sarah has also forwarded his information to the Web of Change to attract tech volunteers.

Jonathan Eyler-Werve from the Chicago group added another wiki link to the conversation – the example of how the source has been used to aggregate the information about the Libyan uprising.
Shufang then summed up the online response information and sent links to (among others):

  • Open source disaster management system Sahana (in Japanese language only)

and to various online sources that work with maps such as:

  • ESRI distaster reponse

The next day (13th of March) Ichi sent us the result of this facebook group work (in Japanese language only) as well as a link to the articles he has been writing (in Japanese language only). He also highlighted the importance of learning the lesson from all of the social media crisis responses and planning a long term strategy for the digital curation in case of disaster.

In a response to Ichi JD Lasica from the group in San Francisco shared links to the interviews with Andy Carvin who had been instrumental in setting up the Hurricane Information Center and the subsequent Crisis Camp for Haiti:

Rachel Weidinger from TechSoup Global sent the group links to resources and recovery guides available on the techsoup.org site – Disaster Planning and Recovery Toolkit.

JD Godchaux from NiJel – a community mapping platform seconded Shufangs’ suggestion to work with Crisis Mappers and encouraged Ichi to join the CrisisMappers list. The project was launched locally on March 11th by a Japanese member of the Open Street Map (OSM) community. The crisis map is being supported by onsite volunteers (mainly in Tokyo) along with a group of students (mainly Japanese) out of Boston lead by The Fletcher School. JD also mentioned another instance of Ushahidi to track radiation levels from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The last comment in the threat came from Ichi, who shared the link to the socialmedia dashboard on Netvibes set by him to catch up the current event. Netvibes is a free web site that allows users to set up their own customized start page composed of “modules” which can contain a wide variety of information from dozens and dozens of other sites. It is a great tool to fetch, store and manage various web sources and make the process transparent and easy to access for everyone.

The entire conversation happened within the 72 hours from the Japanese earthquake and wasn’t stopped when the radiation threat became an issue, nor was it paused by the power outage caused by the disaster.  As the Japanese tragedy proves the role of social media in times of a disaster remains a subject of an ongoing conversation. It highlights the importance of connecting with like-minded people to pool the efforts and delegate responsibilities in the times of crisis. We hope that this post will help others who would like to contribute to the relief of the Japanese tragedy and other disasters that will inevitably happen in the future.

Do you have any other tips or tools for Ichi or anyone else who is interested in using the web to provide digital disaster relief? If so, please share your suggestions in the comments below!

January 15, 2010

Crowdsourcing and Text messaging reaches new heights to help those in Haiti affected by Earthquake

Tents set up after the Earthquake in Haiti's capital (Source: United Nations)

The earthquake that brought devastation to Haiti this week has left thousands of people needing water, food, clothing, shelter and medical supplies, all vital for those that have survived. NGOs have been working hard to provide support and supplies to those affected and a lot of people throughout the world want to help.  The American Red Cross is one NGO that has already received $3 million, through text message donations by appealing for $10 donations from the public and Ushahidi, which was created in Africa by Africans has utilised a crowdsourcing platform to gather information and report about the disaster in real time.

On the Ushahidi website, visitors can submit reports about their knowledge or experience of the disaster and updates are also available via Twitter, You Tube and Flickr. Live updates are also provided via their Google map. Ushahidi also highlights whether a source of information has been validated or not, which poignantly reminds us that despite the benefits of access to information, the need for information that is valid and reliable is still of high importance. For instance, today Twitter debunked a rumour, which falsely claimed that Jet Blue and American Airlines were flying doctors and nurses to Haiti for free to help those affected by the Earthquake. Some authorities have also warned the public about donating to false nonprofits that have been set up to swindle those who give to them.

We hope that all the victims and their families get the help that they so urgently require and that technology can help them to get that help faster.  GuideStar (US) is helping people to find information online about US nonprofits working in Haiti that they would like to give too. They have also provided some tips for giving wisely to nonprofits as donations roll in.

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