We’re well into hurricane season here in Haiti but good luck finding a map on hurricane shelters and evacuation routes. One UN agency was supposed to update a 2007 map but then dropped the ball. Another agency thought they’d take on the task but now there are legal concerns since only the government has the right to decide on official emergency routes and shelters. The result? A highly vulnerable population remains largely unprepared for what many expect will be a busy hurricane season.
Creating country wide maps of hurricane shelters and evacuation routes is obviously no easy task. Or is it? If we adopt the typical top down mentality, then yes, we’re talking about just a handful of people being charged with a huge project that will take them weeks to carry out. With this approach, the maps will completed well after the end of hurricane season. Great.
What if we distributed the task and crowdsourced the maps? We could use the 2007 map of hurricane shelters as a starting point and send out targeted text messages to hundreds of mobile phone users near each of these shelters asking them to report on the condition of each shelter and the access routes. We could triangulate the responses for validation purposes. This could be done tomorrow by using a free short code just like we did during the disaster response operations earlier this year. Since the lottery is big in Haiti, this could serve as an incentive: “timely and accurate replies will qualify you for a raffle.” DigiCel has already conducted SMS raffles in the past, so there is a precedent.
The SMS replies could then be analyzed over the weekend and the results shared with local radio stations early next week. The latter could then broadcast this information on a daily basis. In the meantime, government and UN officials could conduct site visits to improve the shelters and evacuation routes.
An on-line competition could also be launched to have volunteers use Google Earth and other web-based resources to identify areas of land that are elevated in case of flooding. These volunteers could also trace viable roads/paths that lead to and from these areas and mark places that may be vulnerable to landslides and other hazards.
What about the fact that only the government has the legal right to do this? Big deal. The system is not working so it’s time to disrupt it. Would you rather have a crowdsourced disaster preparedness plan now or a government certified plan after the hurricane season? I’m tempted to ask this during tomorrow’s BarCamp Haiti which I am co-organizing with the Haitian tech company Solutions and the Ushahidi Haiti Project.