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for Disaster Response
Problems, Methods, and Tools
Chief Technology Officer
We create free and open-source software
for collaboration toward collective action.
We then teach other people
how to create it for themselves.
Some of the most pertinent questions in disaster
response…are collaboration questions
What in formation What field reports
isn’t getting to and alerts should
thos e who need come faster?
Which groups Which systems
should be making need to share
more decisions inform ation?
Refugee management Katrina response
In our opinion, collaboration,
in humanitarian action
is THE critical task
What ought to happen every time:
1. Diverse organizations self-organize temporarily into a coherent
2. Information flows freely, reliably, and securely.
3. Information flows up, down, and sideways.
4. Information flows across geographic, cultural, technical, and
5. Information shared is timely, accurate, complete, relevant, and
6. All actors -- including those in the field, in the community, at the
edge of the network – maintain a common operating picture.
7. The response is agile, coordinated, efficient, and effective.
Challenges in crisis collaboration
• Harsh field conditions
• Slow, unreliable networks
• Hot, tired, busy, scared users
• Disincentives for cooperation
• Unsuitable platforms
• Slow and inaccurate data collection
• Lack of tools for information sharing
• Low signal-to-noise ratio
• How to include the local community?
The role of collaboration technology
– Agencies can’t (or won’t) collaborate effectively in crisis.
– Technical obstacles are an easy scapegoat and are frequently used
as an excuse for not working together.
– Mutual recognition that there is a new class of software that is
effective, free, standards-based, easy to use, sustainable,
measurable, and flexible…will change the rules of the game.
– We’ve built four free and open-source tools as prototypes for
improved collaboration in crisis. They fill gaps we identified.
– beta evaluation in progress with all four in Southeast Asia
We think this is what collaboration requires…
(…and we hope you have already built much of this.)
We work on several principles…
• Participatory design
• Agile development
• Build only where we must
• Internal capacity first
• Teach innovation
Stung Treng Province, Cambodia: SMS is the only option…
Mesh4X: a data-mesh synchronization platform:
bring together tools, services, data, and people in a collaborative network
•HTTP and SMS
•Hibernate, KML, and
Linking early detection to rapid response:
from a faint signal to collective action
exchange of Merge
Immediate analysis Analyze
& decision support
- Collective understanding
- Response initiation
collective sharing and collaboration
Mesh4X and Forms on Mobile Phones
• Collect information in the field
• Press “sync”
• The information on the phone can
be linked by Mesh4x and SMS to:
– Google Earth
– And to anywhere in the world
GeoChat Preview Features
1. Group chat on a map surface
2. Via SMS, email, or browser
3. Int’l gateway +45 60 99 10 321
4. Twitter integration
5. SMS command interface
6. Automatic geo-coding
7. Supports location and tags
8. Public or private chat groups
9. Optional anonymity
10. RSS feed relay over SMS
Reflections for discussion
Mobiles play a critical but partial role in crisis
Successful mobile collaboration solutions for
crisis management will have broad utility in
other settings and markets.
As with all disaster technology,
interoperability trumps features. Pay
attention to ease of data access and data
integration when shopping.
Broad adoption and daily use are key, so look http://www.instedd.org
at other scenarios. +1 650 796 5709
Issues: anonymity vs. verifiability,
authentication, authorization, data retention.