Hi, please

Relief by SMS? A first assessment

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  1. mushon 11:03, Feb 8th, 10

    Great job!
    Your choice of medium (screencast) is perfect for the job and is very informative and well paced! (it’s not easy to achieve that)

    I think you are on to a very interesting question here that can be quite disturbing: Are communication tools used in disaster relief situations favoring the networked over the disconnected? Is being media savvy makes you more likely to get aid? If that is the case, even to a certain degree, how can this favoring of the mediated (and often also more well-off) be balanced in situations where resources are scarce and the teams on the ground are in desperate need of actionable information?

    I’m fascinated by this, I am sure these are questions the Ushahidi people are asking themselves too. I wonder what’s their take on it.

  2. Leslie 14:39, Feb 8th, 10

    Very cool video post, Nadine! Ushahidi’s crisis map does seem like it could be an unbelievably useful tool in aiding people in crisis situations, but, as you pointed out, is lacking some key components. Have you read anything on whether or not Ushahidi is aware of the problems you pointed out and are actively trying to find solutions for them?

    As both you and Mushon mentioned, the fact that not everyone has easy access to the Internet is definitely a big concern. But, at the same time, the fact that this service is available and able to potentially help more traditional methods of search and rescue is a very positive thing. Maybe that could be a way to make the service better & reach more people- have more traditional relief aid organizations become a part of Ushahidi as a way to further dispatch and keep track of information & actually get aid out to those in need.

  3. HoniehLayla 18:14, Feb 8th, 10

    Awesome web post! I am definitely using the free trial for my future posts. I am really happy that you went through in showing “how” these posts are accurate via SMS, Twitter, etc…

    The only concern I had is the number that they are using to text in is not 5-6 digits, which is what is required for a short code to be (the number your texting to) by the common short code association.

    You can find out about any short code being used:


    I did a search and was unable to find any information, but hopefully with some pull at work I want like to find out who is actually running this operation. Running an SMS campaign of this magnitude takes alot of over head and time..

    I actually found what seems to be the Project Model for Ushahidi – this might have just answered my own question! :)

  4. Jimena 09:43, Feb 9th, 10

    Nadine! super interesting. Looking through Ushahidi’s site I learnt that they powered a tool called “Cuidemos el voto”, that I knew from last year’s local ellections in Mexico.
    Anyway, I am also intrigued (in general and regarding my own topic) by how to materialize information on a screen into actual, concrete actions in real time and places. As Mushon says, the wired-unwired divide apparently keeps favoring the mediated. I did a search and found a post on Ushahidi’s blog that better explains how their app translates into real help. Turns out they are indeed connected to several international relief agencies, apparently.
    They have a prety useful graphic here: http://blog.ushahidi.com/
    I also found their comment forums to be pretty interesting and useful. They keep the collaborative spirit open to all, not only programmers and such.

  5. Ryan 15:46, Feb 9th, 10

    These are some interesting questions that you raise, and ironically, were related to my first post about real life solutions to these emergency related situations. I think you asked the right questions, now its just a matter of finding out the answers to them. I’d be interested in how humanitarian aid or relief organizations connect the dots here?

    It kinda reminds me of this: It’s like calling 911 but no one picks up to hear your call for help. Then you leave a message and wait. Hopefully someone comes for you.

    Good luck exploring these problems.

  6. Jonah 16:44, Feb 10th, 10

    Hi Nadine,

    Interesting analysis.

    Have you considered coming by a Crisis Camp and contributing you ideas to the relief efforts?


    Also, there is some research going into these kinds of development and relief efforts

    e.g. http://newmediadev2009.wikischolars.columbia

    Curious what you think about a project I have gotten involved in:


    Come out to a haitian fundraiser this weekend and you’ll probably be able to speak to people working on these efforts http://bit.ly/cFF3mv

    good luck!

  7. Patrick Meier 16:36, Feb 11th, 10

    Hi Nadine,

    Great job with your video blog! Thanks for taking the time to share the work of Ushahidi + volunteers and articulating the challenges we are all facing. I’ll try and address the issues you raised but I certainly don’t have all the answers. Nobody has ever done this before so we’re learning as much as we can and would certainly value your input.

    ** Verification / Follow up

    We can only “verify” information if we get 2 or more SMS’s (or other sources of info) on a particular incident to triangulate the information. Given the context of Haiti, we don’t expect there to be individuals who would take advantage of the disaster to submit false reports. But of course, if someone wanted to, they could. The question therefore, therefore, is whether it’s worth running that risk to save lives and relieve suffering or not? Or if we put ourselves in the place of the disaster affected populations, would we prefer that the SMS we send asking for help not be published because volunteers can’t verify the information? These are tough questions and I don’t pretend that there are any clear answers. In terms of follow-up, I think the comments by the Marine Corps in Haiti explain why it is difficult for responders to let us know each and every time they’ve responded to an alert:


    ** No Phone Number

    That’s correct, we don’t publish the phone numbers but our partners on the ground (humanitarian organizations) have access to the raw data so they can follow up directly.

    ** Raising Expectation of Response

    This is a big concern for us as well and why we now have a full time Ushahidi representative on the ground in Haiti to work directly with partners to make sure they can close the feedback loop. We have also spent a lot of time on Haitian Diaspora radio/television as well as local radio in Haiti explaining the purpose of Ushahidi, namely to collect information on the most urgent needs of the disaster affected population and to make this public so that humanitarian organizations can respond accordingly. But we’ve been very clear about explaining that the humanitarian responders cannot respond to every single report and that they are focusing first and foremost on life/death alerts.

    ** Internet Access

    That’s correct, not everyone has Internet access in Haiti. That’s why we have the “Get Alerts” feature that allows anyone to subscribe to specific alerts from specific places by text message.

    ** Informal Settlements/Slums

    I’m glad you raised this point. We’ve been working on a project proposal for 2 weeks now to launch a MapKibera version in Haiti together with our partners at Open Street Map. Google recently got in touch with me to ask how they could help. I told them focus on the slums, and they now have a team on the ground trying to help map some of these settlemetns. One of our volunteers at Tufts will be in Haiti soon to start the program with OSM. This is an issue close to our hearts at Ushahidi; the most vulnerable communities are often those who live in the slums. We want to use Ushahidi to help them tell their own story and articulate their own needs. I’ll write up a blog post on this soon (should have done it weeks ago).

    In sum, I just want to repeat that (1) we don’t have all the answers, (2) this is unprecedented in humanitarian response, and (3) are very much open to constructive input like yours. So I look forward to your next blog post! Well done once again and thank you.

    Thanks again,

  8. mushon 14:35, Feb 13th, 10

    @Patrick: this is great! Thanks for this insightful and informing response and thanks so much for taking the time to write this extensive comment. God knows you are not suffering from too much extra time these days.