Tag Archives: Disasters

How Civil Disobedience Improves Crowdsourced Disaster Response (and Vice Versa)

Update: The most recent example of the link between disobedience and disaster response is Occupy #Sandy. As the New York Times and ABC News have noted,  “the movement’s connections and ‘altruistic drive’ has led to them being some-what more effective in the northwestern Hurricane Sandy relief movement than ‘larger, more established charity groups.'”As noted here, “the coordinators of the Occupy Sandy relief effort have been working in conjunction with supply distributors, such as the Red Cross and FEMA, while relying on the National Guard for security.” Many describe the movement’s role in response to Sandy as instrumental. The Occupy movement also worked with New York City’s office and other parts of the government. Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised Occupy for their invaluable efforts: “Thank you for everything you’ve done. You guys are great […]. You really are making a difference.” The Occupy Sandy documentary below is well worth watching. I also recommend reading this blog post.

When Philippine President Joseph Estrada was forced from office following widespread protests in 2001, he complained bitterly that “the popular uprising against him was a coup de text.” Indeed, the mass protests had been primarily organized via SMS. Fast forward to 2012 and the massive floods that re-cently paralyzed the country’s capital. Using mobile phones and social media, ordinary Filipinos crowdsourced the disaster response efforts on their own without any help from the government.

In 2010, hundreds of forest fires ravaged Russia. Within days, volunteers based in Moscow launched their own crowdsourced disaster relief effort, which was seen by many as both more effective and visible than the Kremlin’s response. These volunteers even won high profile awards in recognition of their efforts (picture below). Some were also involved in the crowdsourced response to the recent Krymsk floods. Like their Egyptian counterparts, many Russians are par-ticularly adept at using social media and mobile technologies given the years of experience they have in digital activism and civil resistance.

At the height of last year’s Egyptian revolution, a female activist in Cairo stated the following: “We use Facebook to schedule our protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world.” Several weeks later, Egyptian activists used social networking platforms to organize & coordinate their own humanitarian convoys to Tripoli to provide relief to Libyan civilians affected by the fighting.

The same is true of Iranians, as witnessed during the Green Revolution in 2009. Should anyone be surprised that young, digitally savvy Iranians took the lead in using social media and mobile technologies to crowdsource relief efforts in response to the recent earthquakes in the country’s northern region? Given their distrust of the Iranian regime, should anyone be surprised that they opted to deliver the aid directly to the disaster-affected communities themselves?

Whether they are political activists on one day and volunteer humanitarians on another, the individuals behind the efforts described above use the same tools to mobilize and coordinate. And they build social capital in the process—strong and weak ties—regardless of whether they are responding to repressive policies or “natural’ disasters. Social capital facilitates collective action, which is key to political movements and humanitarian response—both on and offline. While some individuals are more politically inclined, others are more drawn to helping those in need during a disaster. Either way, these individuals are already part of overlapping social networks.

In fact, some activists may actually consider their involvement in volunteer-based humanitarian response efforts as an indirect form of nonviolent protest and civil resistance. According to The New York Times, volunteers who responded to Iran’s deadly double earthquake were “a group of young Iranians—a mix of hipsters, off-road motor club members and children of affluent families […]”. They “felt like rebels with a cause […], energized by anger over widespread accusations that Iran’s official relief organizations were not adequately helping survivors […].” Interestingly, Iran’s Supreme Leader actually endorsed this type of private, independent delivery of aid that Iranian volunteers had undertaken. He may want to think that over.

The faster and more ably citizen volunteers can respond to “natural” disasters, the more backlash there may be against governments who are not seen to respond adequately to these disasters. Their legitimacy and capacity to govern may come into question by more sectors of the population. Both Beijing and Iran have already been heavily criticized for their perceived failure in responding to the recent floods and earthquakes. More importantly, perhaps, these crowd-sourced humanitarian efforts may serve to boost the confidence of activists. As one Iranian activist noted, “By organizing our own aid convoy, we showed that we can manage ourselves […]. We don’t need others to tell us what to do.”

In neighboring Pakistan, the government failed catastrophically in its response to the devastating cyclone that struck East Pakistan in 1970. To this day, Cyclone Bhola remains the most deadly cyclone on record, killing some 500,000 people. A week after the hazard struck, the Pakistani President acknowledged that his government had made “mistakes in its handling of the relief efforts due to a lack of understanding of the magnitude of the disaster.” The lack of timely and coordinated government response resulted in massive protests agains the state, which served as an important trigger for the war of independence that led to the creation of Bangladesh. (Just imagine, SMS wasn’t even around then).

Given a confluence of grievances, “natural” disasters may potentially provide a momentary window of opportunity to catalyze regime change. This is perhaps more likely when those citizens responding to a disaster also happen to be savvy digital activists (and vice versa).

Launching a Library of Crisis Hashtags on Twitter

I recently posted the following question on the CrisisMappers list-serve: “Does anyone know whether a list of crisis hashtags exists?”

There are several reasons why such a hashtag list would be of added value to the CrisisMappers community and beyond. First, an analysis of Twitter hashtags used during crises over the past few years could be quite insightful; interesting new patterns may be evolving. Second, the resulting analysis could be used as a guide to find (and create) new hashtags when future crises unfold. Third, a library of hashtags would make it easier to collect historical datasets of crisis information shared on Twitter for the purposes of analysis & social computing research. To be sure, without this data, developing more sophisticated machine learning platforms like the Twitter Dashboard for the Humanitarian Cluster System would be serious challenge indeed.

After posting my question on CrisisMappers and Twitter, it was clear that no such library existed. So my colleague Sara Farmer launched a Google Spreadsheet to crowdsource an initial list. Since I was working on a similar list, I’ve created a combined spreadsheet which is available and editable here. Please do add any other crisis hashtags you may know about so we can make this the most comprehensive and up-to-date resource available to everyone. Thank you!

Whilst doing this research, I came across two potentially interesting and helpful hashtag websites: Hashonomy.com and Hashtags.org.

CrisisTracker: Collaborative Social Media Analysis For Disaster Response

I just had the pleasure of speaking with my new colleague Jakob Rogstadius from Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (Madeira-TTI). Jakob is working on CrisisTracker, a very interesting platform designed to facilitate collaborative social media analysis for disaster response. The rationale for CrisisTracker is the same one behind Ushahidi’s SwiftRiver project and could be hugely helpful for crisis mapping projects carried out by the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF).

From the CrisisTracker website:

“During large-scale complex crises such as the Haiti earthquake, the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Arab Spring, social media has emerged as a source of timely and detailed reports regarding important events. However, indivi-dual disaster responders, government officials or citizens who wish to access this vast knowledge base are met with a torrent of information that quickly results in information overload. Without a way to organize and navigate the reports, important details are easily overlooked and it is challenging to use the data to get an overview of the situation as a whole.”

We (Madeira University, University of Oulu and IBM Research) believe that volunteers around the world would be willing to assist hard-pressed decision makers with information management, if the tools were available. With this vision in mind, we have developed Crisis-Tracker.”

Like SwiftRiver, CrisisTracker combines some automated clustering of content with the crowdsourced curation of said content for further filtering. “Any user of the system can directly contribute tags that make it easier for other users to retrieve information and explore stories by similarity. In addition, users of the system can influence how tweets are grouped into stories.” Stories can be filtered by Report Category, Keywords, Named Entities, Time and Location. CrisisTracker also allows for simple geo-fencing to capture and list only those Tweets displayed on a given map.

Geolocation, Report Categories and Named Entities are all generated manually. The clustering of reports into stories is done automatically using keyword frequencies. So if keyword dictionaries exist for other languages, the platform could be used in these other languages as well. The result is a list of clustered Tweets displayed below the map, with the most popular cluster at the top.

Clicking on an entry like the row in red above opens up a new page, like the one below. This page lists a group of tweets that all discuss the same specific event, in this case an explosion in Syria’s capital.

What is particularly helpful about this setup is the meta-data displayed for this story or event: the number of people who tweeted about the story, the number of tweets about the story, the first day/time the story was shared on twitter. In addition, the first tweet to report the story is listed along, which is very helpful. This list can be ranked according to “Size” which is a figure that reflects the minimum number of original tweets and the number of Twitter users who shared these tweets. This is a particularly useful metric (and way to deal with spammers). Users also have the option of listing the first 50 tweets that referenced the story.

As you may be able to tell from the “Hide Story” and “Remove” buttons on the righthand-side of the display above, each clustered story and indeed tweet can be hidden or removed if not relevant. This is where crowdsourced curation comes in. In addition, CrisisTracker enable users to geo-tag and categorize each tweets according to report type (e.g., Violence, Deaths, Request/Need, etc.), general keywords (e.g., #assad, #blasts, etc.) and named entities. Note the the keywords can be removed and more high-quality tags can be added or crowdsourced by users as well (see below).

CrisisTracker also suggests related stories that may be of interest to the user based on the initial clustering and filtering—assisted manual clustering. In addition, the platform’s API means that the data can then be exported in XML using a simple parser. So interoperability with platforms like Ushahidi’s would be possible. After our call, Jakob added a link on each story page in the system (a small XML icon below the related stories) to get the story in XML format. Any other system can now take this URL and parse the story into its own native format. Jakob is also looking to build a number of extensions to CrisisTracker and a “Share with Ushahidi” button may be one such future extension. Crisis-Tracker is basically Jakob’s core PhD project, which is very cool, so he’ll be working on this for at least one more year.

In sum, this could very well be the platform that many of us in the crisis mapping space have been waiting for. As I wrote in February 2012, turning the Twitter-sphere “into real-time shared awareness will require that our filtering and curation platforms become more automated and collaborative. I believe the key is thus to combine automated solutions with real-time collaborative crowd-sourcing tools—that is, platforms that enable crowds to collaboratively filter and curate real-time information, in real-time. Right now, when we comb through Twitter, for example, we do so on our own, sitting behind our laptop, isolated from others who may be seeking to filter the exact same type of content. We need to develop free and open source platforms that allow for the distributed-but-networked, crowdsourced filtering and curation of information in order to democratize the sense-making of the firehose.”

Actually, I’ve been advocating for this approach since early 2009. So I’m really excited about Jakob’s project. We’ll be partnering with him and the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) in September 2012 to test the platform and provide him with expert feedback on how to further streamline the tool for collaborative social media analysis and crisis mapping. Jakob is also looking for domain experts to help on this study. In the meantime, I’ve invited Jakob to present Crisis-Tracker at the 2012 CrisisMappers Conference in Washington DC and very much hope he can join us to demo his tool to us in person. In the meantime, the video above provides an excellent overview of CrisisTracker, as does the project website. Finally, the project is also open source and available on Github here.

Epilogue: The main problem with CrisisTracker is that it is still too manual; it does not include any machine learning & artificial intelligence features; and has only focused on Syria. This may explain why it has not gained traction in the humanitarian space so far.

Back to the Future: On National Geographic and Crisis Mapping

[Cross-posted from National Geographic Newswatch]

Published in October 1888, the first issue of National Geographic “was a modest looking scientific brochure with an austere terra-cotta cover” (NG 2003). The inaugural publication comprised a dense academic treatise on the classification of geographic forms by genesis. But that wasn’t all. The first issue also included a riveting account of “The Great White Hurricane” of March 1888, which still ranks as one of the worst winter storms ever in US history.

Wreck at Coleman’s Station, New York & Harlem R. R., March 13, 1888. Photo courtesy NOAA Photo Library.

I’ve just spent a riveting week myself at the 2012 National Geographic Explorers Symposium in Washington DC, the birthplace of the National Geographic Society. I was truly honored to be recognized as a 2012 Emerging Explorer along with such an amazing and accomplished cadre of explorers. So it was with excitement that I began reading up on the history of this unique institution whilst on my flight to Doha following the Symposium.

I’ve been tagged as the “Crisis Mapper” of the Emerging Explorers Class of 2012. So imagine my astonishment when I  began discovering that National Geographic had a long history of covering and mapping natural disasters, humanitarian crises and wars starting from the very first issue of the magazine in 1888. And when World War I broke out:

“Readers opened their August 1914 edition of the magazine to find an up-to-date map of ‘The New Balkan States and Central Europe’ that allowed them to follow the developments of the war. Large maps of the fighting fronts continued to be published throughout the conflict […]” (NG 2003).

Map of ‘The New Balkan States and Central Europe’ from the August 1914 “National Geographic Magazine.” Image courtesy NGS.

National Geographic even established a News Service Bureau to provide bulletins on the geographic aspects of the war for the nation’s newspapers. As the respected war strategist Carl von Clausewitz noted half-a-century before the launch of Geographic, “geography and the character of the ground bear a close and ever present relation to warfare, . . . both as to its course and to its planning and exploitation.”

“When World War II came, the Geographic opened its vast files of photographs, more than 300,000 at that time, to the armed forces. By matching prewar aerial photographs against wartime ones, analysts detected camouflage and gathered intelligence” (NG 2003).

During the 1960s, National Geographic “did not shrink from covering the war in Vietnam.” Staff writers and photographers captured all aspects of the war from “Saigon to the Mekong Delta to villages and rice fields.” In the years and decades that followed, Geographic continued to capture unfolding crises, from occupied Palestine and Apartheid South Africa to war-torn Afghanistan and the drought-striven Sahel of Africa.

Geographic also covered the tragedy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the dramatic eruption of Mount Saint Helens. The gripping account of the latter would in fact become the most popular article in all of National Geographic history. Today,

“New technologies–remote sensing, lasers, computer graphics, x-rays and CT scans–allow National Geographic to picture the world in new ways.” This is equally true of maps. “Since the first map was published in the magazine in 1888, maps  have been an integral component of many magazine articles, books and television programs […]. Originally drafted by hand on large projections, today’s maps are created by state-of-the art computers to map everything from the Grand Canyon to the outer reaches of the universe” (NG 2003). And crises.

“Pick up a newspaper and every single day you’ll see how geography plays a dominant role in giving a third dimension to life,” wrote Gil Grosvenor, the former Editor in Chief of National Geographic (NG 2003). And as we know only too well, many of the headlines in today’s newspapers relay stories of crises the world over. National Geographic has a tremendous opportunity to shed a third dimension on emerging crises around the globe using new live mapping technologies. Indeed, to map the world is to know it, and to map the world live is to change it live before it’s too late. The next post in this series will illustrate why with an example from the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.

Patrick Meier is a 2012 National Geographic Emerging ExplorerHe is an internationally recognized thought leader on the application of new technologies for positive social change. He currently serves as Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute (QCRI). Patrick also authors the respected iRevolution blog & tweets at @patrickmeier. This piece was originally published here on National Geographic.

Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC)

Communication is Aid: Curated tweets and commentary from the CDAC Network’s Media and Technology Fair, London 2012. My commentary in blue. This is the first time I’ve used Storify to curate content. (I bumped into the co-founder of the platform at SXSW which reminded me I really needed to get in on the action).

  1. Sha

    re
    “After the Japan earthquake, >20% of ALL web queries issued were on tsunamis.” @spangledrongo #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 08:53:43
  2. Would be great to see how this type of search data compares to data from Tweets. Take this analysis of tweets following the earthquake in Chile, for example.
  3. Share
    RT @UNFPA: Professional systems are being replaced by consumer tools says @Google Crisis Response #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 08:48:58
  4. And as a result, crisis-affected communities are increasingly becoming digital as I note in this blog post.
  5. Share
    Closed systems closed data will be left behind and unused:crisis response is social and collaboration is empowering @CDACNetwork #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 08:49:58
  6. Share
    RT @catherinedem: Crisis response is #social – online social collaboration spikes during and after disaster @spangledrongo #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 08:54:03
  7. Share
    “It is essential to have authoritative content” Nigel Snoad at @CDACNetwork’s Media & Tech Fair #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 08:58:28
  8. Does this mean that all user-generated content should be ignored because said content does not necessarily come from a known and authoritative source? Who decides what is authoritative?
  9. Share
    we don’t empower communities by giving them info,they empower themselves by giving us info that we can act on-@komunikasikan #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 11:31:02
  10. What if this information is not authoritative because it does not come from official sources?
  11. Share
    RT @ushahidi: “In a crisis, the mobile internet stays most resilient, even more than SMS.” #commisaid Nigel Snoad

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 09:02:53
  12. Share
    RT @jqg: Empower local communities to generate their own tools and figure out their own solutions #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 09:10:43
  13. See this blog post on Democratizing ICT for Development Using DIY Innovation and Open Data.
  14. Share
    Through #Mission4636 SMS system, radio presenter @carelpedre was able to communicate directly with affected people in Haiti #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 12:20:14
  15. This is rather interesting, I hadn’t realized that radio stations in Haiti actively used the information from the Ushahidi Haiti 4636 project.
  16. Share
    Fascinating talk with @carelpedre- many of #Haiti ‘s pre-earthquake twitter users came from @juno7’s lottery push notifications #Commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 11:11:43
  17. Share
    More about @Carelpedre using 4636 project after #Haiti earthquake bit.ly/plgzXJ #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 12:17:52
  18. Share
    Internews: Innovation comes within, info comes from within, people will find ways to communicate no matter what #commisaid @CDACNetwork

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 09:26:25
  19. So best of luck to those who wish to regulate this space! As my colleague Tim McNamara has noted “Crisis mapping is not simply a technological shift, it is also a process of rapid decentralisation of power. With extremely low barriers to entry, many new entrants are appearing in the fields of emergency and disaster response. They are ignoring the traditional hierarchies, because the new entrants perceive that there is something that they can do which benefits others.”
  20. Share
    @souktel: “be simple, be creative and learn from the community around you” #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 10:57:09
  21. Share
    Tools shouldn’t own data. RT @whiteafrican: “It’s not about the platform being open, it’s about the data being open”- @jcrowley #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 11:56:08
  22. Share
    Humanitarians have to get their heads around media and tech or risk being left behind #m4d #media #tech #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 11:56:58
  23. Share
    Cutting edge is to get the #crowd & the #algorithm to filter each other in filtering massive overload of information in a crisis #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 12:01:17
  24. As Robert Kirkpatrick likes to say, “Use the hunch of the expert, machine algorithms and the wisdom of the crowd.”
  25. Share
    “How long until the disaster affected communities start analyzing the aid agencies?” #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 12:14:50
  26. Yes! Sousveillance meets analysis of big data on the humanitarian sector.
  27. Share
    Why is it such a big deal, for the humanitarian industry to get feedback from a community? Companies have done it for decades. #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 12:17:31
  28. Some of my thoughts on what the humanitarian community can learn from the private sector vis-a-vis customer support.
  29. Share
    People who are not traditional humanitarian actors are taking on humanitarian roles, driven by the democratisation of technology #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 13:00:12
  30. Indeed, not only are disaster-affected communities increasingly digital, so are global volunteer networks like the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF).
  31. Share
    Technology is shifting the power balance – it’s helping local communities to organise their own responses to disasters #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 13:11:18
  32. Indeed, as a result of these mobile technologies, affected populations are increasingly able to source, share and generate a vast amount of information, which is completely transforming disaster response. More on this here.
  33. Share
    Like Paul Currion’s analogy – humanitarian sector risks obsolescence in the same way the record industry did. Watch out? #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 13:17:36
  34. Share


    Thu, Mar 22 2012 14:57:13
  35. One of my favorite books, The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, has an excellent case study on the music industry. The above picture is taken from that chapter and charts the history of the industry from the perspective of hierarchies vs networks. I’ve argued a couple years ago that the same dynamic is taking place within humanitarian response. See this blog post on Disaster Relief 2.0: Toward a Multipolar System.
  36. Share
    A thousand flowers can bloom beautifully IF common data standards allow sharing. Right now no natural selection improving quality #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 13:43:19
  37. Share
    @GSMADisasterRes :free phone numbers &short codes r not silver bullets 4 meaningful communication w/disaster affected communities #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 13:58:44
  38. Share
    Scale horizontally, not vertically. The end of command and control?! #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 14:07:54
  39. Share
    RT @reeniac: what now? communities have the solution, we need to listen. start by including them in the discussions – Dr Jamilah #commisaid

    Thu, Mar 22 2012 14:14:55

Check-In’s with a Purpose: Applications for Disaster Response

This is the second post in my check-in’s-with-a-purpose series. The first post looked at the use of check-in’s to coordinate activist campaigns and street protests. The check-in’s series builds on Ushahidi’s free and open-source check-in service (CI) slated to launch in just a few weeks at SxSW 2011.

So how might organizations and local groups be able to use CI for disaster response? In three ways: (1) preparedness; (2) coordination; and (3) evaluation.

Preparedness

When you walk into a disaster area, say following an earthquake, you don’t want to be swamped with all kinds of information imaginable. You only want information relevant to you and your responsibilities in a given geographic area (demand side versus supply side). CI provides an easy, intuitive interface for this. You check-in when you want additional info about the area you are in.

This is similar to the idea of geo-caching, hence the reference to preparedness. You embed (or pre-populate) a given map with relevant structural and event-data for a given area. By structural data, I mean physical infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, etc. Event-data simply refers to nearby incidents. New data could be regularly embedded into the map (via geo-RSS feeds) to provide the latest event-data available. When you check-in, CI provides you with information and updates relevant to your vicinity and profile. For example, if you’ve added “health” as a tag on your profile, CI could prioritize health-based information when you check-in, including the location of other health-workers and their contact info.

There is another equally important angle to preparedness when it comes to check-in’s. Mapping infrastructure vulnerable to disasters is common practice in disaster risk reduction projects. These can be community-driven and participatory, giving local communities a stake in building their own resilience. In one such project, local communities in neighborhoods around Istanbul mapped infrastructure vulnerable to earthquake damage, e.g., overhanging structures like balconies. They also mapped local shelters, possible escape routes, etc. CI could be used for this type of crowdsourced, participatory mapping. Crowdfeeding would then simply happen by checking-in. The sign “In case of emergency, break glass” would become “In case of emergency, check-in.”

Coordination

What about coordination? Keeping track of who is in a disaster area, and where, is no easy task. A check-in service would go a long way to addressing this coordination challenge. Call it instant mapping. Disaster responders would simply click the check-in app on their smart phones after they land in a disaster area to check-in. Each organization could set up their own check-in service to coordinate their staff with instant maps. Check-in deployments could also be project- or cluster-based.

In addition, an open check-in deployment could be set up for all responders. A separate CI deployment would be especially useful if hundreds of volunteers decide to fly in. They could be tasked more efficiently if they first checked-in. Doing so would provide coordinators with access to individual profiles with listed skill sets and contact info, much like a LinkedIn profile. Disaster responders and volunteers could also check-out once they leave a disaster area.

A check-in service could facilitate a number of other coordination challenges. Finding missing persons after a disaster has always been difficult, for example. One way to let others know you’re ok would be by checking in. Doing so would prompt the CI service to provide you with the latest on the disaster that took place, information on nearby services and who in your own professional or social network is in the vicinity long with their contact info. This could also be a way to coordinate corporate social responsibility projects in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Large companies with employees wanting to help could simply check-in to their CI service to get information on how to help.

Evaluation

Check-in’s could also be used for evaluation and accountability purposes. Once you’ve accomplished a task, you could quickly check-in with an update, which would leave a digital trace of your accomplishment. Or say you’re on your way to a food distribution site and drive past some newly flooded houses, you could quickly check-in with that information to update everyone else on your network. CI can also be used with badges and points, allowing people to develop a track-record of their work in a disaster area.

Some Challenges

There are of course some challenges in using a CI service for disaster response. Keep it simple. This is perhaps the most important point. One could very easily go all out and add countless features to a CI service. Such is the beauty of open source software. For disaster response, however, the trick will be to keep it simple and not try to turn CI into a solution for everything. If data coverage isn’t possible, then a check-in service should allow for SMS-based check-in’s. This could be done by using SMSsync. Another challenge will be to provide a seamless way to check into multiple CI deployments at the same time and for these to be interoperable. For example, if I’m with WFP, I should be able to check-in on the WFP CI and have my check-in appear simultaneously on the Food Cluster CI, OCHA CI, etc.

If you have ideas about how a check-in service could be used for disaster response, or recommendations on what would make Ushahidi’s CI system more useful, please do add them in the comments section below. My next post in this check-in’s-with-a-purpose series will describe how a CI service combined with gaming can be used to catalyze civic participation and engagement across a range of activities.