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Natural disaster? There’s an app for that...

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Geek relief

Natural disaster? There’s an app for that...

Uber-geeks have created some awesome tools to help Haitian earthquake victims

  • Text 'Hait' to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross Haiti relief.
    «Gray♦ish»/FlickrText 'Hait' to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross Haiti relief.
  • Haitian Red Cross volunteer Jean Zacharie delivers first aid to 1 month old- Deborah Fatima, whose mother died in quake.
    American Red Cross/Talia FrenkelHaitian Red Cross volunteer Jean Zacharie delivers first aid to 1 month old- Deborah Fatima, whose mother died in quake.

While we patiently await the arrival of our promised jet-pack technology, the past 11 days in Haiti have demonstrated that as a species, humans are little better at avoiding earthquakes today than we were in prehistoric times.

In fact, our Cro-Magnon ancestors were incapable of creating multi-story buildings to topple on their heads during the violent shaking, so one may argue they had an advantage over us.

However, as a planet, we have become remarkably adept at response to natural disasters. Not only are nations pooling resources to work together to search, rescue, recover and rebuild, but we are doing so faster than ever before with greater success.

Leave it to the technology geeks to further optimize that process.

The past 11 days have seen an unofficial race within the technology world to develop applications to help Haiti in everything from collecting cash aid to consolidating missing person databases.

Much has been made of the “$10 texting” phenomenon where former President Clinton, the Red Cross and Haitian-American performer Wyclef Jean have asked Americans to send small change to aid funds using the text messaging capability of their mobile phones. This use of technology has had an immediate impact for relief organizations, dramatically shortening the time from donation request to donation collection.

But text messaging is child’s play for the hard-core geeks. How do the brain trusts of global technology contribute their expertise? Well, the first step to any sort of “geek relief” is to build an online community.

Leading the charge and organizing the collaboration is non-profit CrisisCommons, self-defined as:

“an international volunteer network of professionals drawn together by a call to service . . . to create technological tools and resources for responders to use in mitigating disasters and crises around the world.”

The organization provides infrastructure, support and a home base that allows technology to meaningfully improve crisis response.  According to their website:

“CrisisCommons is part of a global movement that unites volunteers, academia, non-profits, companies and government officials in sharing best practices and lessons learned to advocate for further use of technology and telecommunications to assist citizens and communities during crisis.”

To take the online community to the streets, CrisisCommons created CrisisCamp - a series of in-person meetings, currently being held in 12 cities in four countries to bring together contributors and share best practices. 

Example output from CrisisCamp include a Creole/English/Creole dictionary application to assist aid workers in communicating with the local Haitian people. The program, Tradui Translation is available for iPhone and Android. By the way, tradui is Creole for "translate."

Other relief tech tools include the “We Have, We Need” website which CrisisCamp Haiti volunteers in five cities collaboratively conceived of and created to function like a sort of Craig's List for relief agencies. The service helps match would-be donors with specific requests from relief organizations. There are currently many more “needs” than “haves.”

“Tools and resources created by CrisisCamp volunteers are designed to enhance responders' decision-making capability, transparency and collaboration.”

Even Google has contributed to the tech relief action, helping to aggregate requests for information about missing people and updates about affected people with their People Finder application. In a simple bulletin board fashion, users declare whether they are looking for someone or have knowledge of someone and post accordingly. With nearly 40,000 records, the database is available in French, Spanish, Creole and English.  

On the Web

Crisis Commons

Tradui Translation app

We Have We Need

People Finder: Haiti Earthquake

CrisisCamp Cities

  • Montreal
  • Toronto
  • Bogota, Colombia
  • London, UK
  • Boston
  • Denver
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • Portland
  • Seattle
  • Sunnyvale, California
  • Washington, D.C.

Read more about

clinton, earthquake, google, haiti, iphone, red cross,

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