Why Universities are Key for the Future of Crisis Mapping

In January 2010, I launched the Ushahidi Crisis Map for Haiti. In February, I launched the Ushahidi Crisis Map of Chile. Neither initiative would have been possible without the incredible student volunteer network that formed at The Fletcher School/Tufts University, the Graduate Institute in Geneva and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). We also had a few volunteers from the London School of Economics (LSE).

At one point, I had set up a Skype IM chat group titled “Global Situation Rooms” which included the core reps from Fletcher, Geneva and SIPA. The highlight for me was when we all got on the chat group to debrief. I moderated the session and would literally write “Geneva, you have the floor”, “New York, you have the floor”, “London, you have the floor”, etc. Talk about the first open source, global neogeography disaster response operation.

Given that The Fletcher School/Tufts group have paved the way forward in absolutely amazing ways, I  suggested back in February that we formalize this set up and launch a network of global situation rooms. I think the Fletcher team could play a leading role in this bold initiative and become the convener or Secretariat of this global network. If a disaster strikes Madagascar, for example, the Fletcher team could convene reps from other University Situation Rooms (USRs) and coordinate the near real-time crisis mapping support.

I ran with this idea and pitched it to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U), which will take place in mid-April. I’ve called the project “Universities for Ushahidi” and made this my commitment as a student participant at CGI-U. I’ve thought about this initiative further over the past two months and would like to focus  specifically on universities in the developing world and not restrict operations to emergency response, or to Ushahidi.

So here’s my dream: have the awesome team at Fletcher pave the way in training 12 universities around the world, 4 in Africa, 4 in Asia and 4 in South America. Have each of these new Situation Rooms be capable of launching near real-time crisis mapping support projects within hours after a crisis strikes in their countries/regions. In between crises, the new Situation Rooms could run other projects using Ushahidi. As I noted above, however, I would want this to include training and applications combined with other tools including OpenStreetMap, FrontlineSMS, etc.

I’m really excited by the potential. Universities have a clear comparative advantage. What other organization or institution has the ability to mobilize hundreds of student volunteers for weeks on end? I do see this as a form of activism. Students should be paving the way, revolutionizing the way we think and do things. I’m proud to be a Fletcher School student and can think of no better way to contribute to our moto: “Preparing Leaders with a Global Perspective.”

Fletcher students are exactly the type of students who will go on to work for the UN and other humanitarian/development/human rights organizations. They are the first generation of Crisis Mappers and their leadership, professionalism and camaraderie will change what is possible in this space. That is why universities are key to the future of crisis mapping.

Patrick Philippe Meier

3 responses to “Why Universities are Key for the Future of Crisis Mapping

  1. Pingback: Digital Democracy | Advisor receives award from Bill Clinton

  2. Pingback: Disaster Relief 2.0: Towards a Multipolar System? | iRevolution

  3. Pingback: Universities for Ushahidi: Mapping as a Peacebuilding Tool – The Ushahidi Blog

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