Shorty after the earthquake, Ushahidi launched a new online mapping platform to assist the humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti. The idea sounds simple: people can send a text message to an indicated short number to communicate their needs and request help. But how does this system work? Even in New York, it wouldn’t be easy to set a rescue operation in motion by a simple SMS. Effective coordination between the different emergency services, like the ambulance association and the police and fire departments, requires excellent information exchange. However, communication often collapses in the wake of natural disasters, creating situations characterized by chaos and lack of information. How do people get in touch with each other? And how do they know which number to call?
In my next travel-blog, I will explore the complex interaction chain between the people that text for help and the diverse Ushahidi volunteers- either those based in New York or Port-au-Prince. Who is involved? How does the communication system work? In addition, I will analyze how the received information is verified and how actions are coordinated with the relief agencies. What happens if no geographic coordinates are available, or if the place in question is a slum where there are no official maps? When even experienced international humanitarian agencies face major difficulties in organizing effectively help, how does Ushahidi manage?