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Ushahidi Crowd-Sources Crisis Response 71

Posted by kdawson
from the feet-on-the-ground dept.
We mentioned late last year how open source software called Ushahidi — which means 'testimony' in Swahili — developed for election monitoring in Kenya was being used to similar effect in Afghanistan. Now reader Peace Corps Online adds a report from the NY Times that Ushahidi's is now becoming a hero of the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes. "Ushahidi is used to gather distributed data via SMS, email, or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. The program was developed after violence erupted during Kenya's disputed election in 2007. Ory Okolloh, a prominent Kenyan lawyer and blogger, had gone back to Kenya to vote and observe the election. After receiving threats about her work, she returned to South Africa where she posted her idea of an Internet mapping tool to allow people to report anonymously on violence and other misdeeds. Volunteers built the Ushahidi Web platform over a long weekend, and the site began plotting on a map, using the locations given by informants, user-generated cellphone reports of riots, stranded refugees, rapes, and deaths. When the Haitian earthquake struck, Ushahidi went into action receiving thousands of messages reporting trapped victims; the same happened following the Chile earthquake. The Washington Post also used Ushahidi during the recent blizzards to build a site to map road blockages and the location of available snowplows and blowers. 'Ushahidi suggests a new paradigm in humanitarian work,' writes Anand Giridharadas. 'The old paradigm was one-to-many: foreign journalists and aid workers jet in, report on a calamity, and dispense aid with whatever data they have. The new paradigm is many-to-many-to-many: victims supply on-the-ground data; a self-organizing mob of global volunteers translates text messages and helps to orchestrate relief; then journalists and aid workers use the data to target the response.'"
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Ushahidi Crowd-Sources Crisis Response

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday March 15, 2010 @09:14PM (#31491048)

    How can we monetize it?

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      Do you have no soul at all? Or is this supposed to be sarcasm?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 2obvious4u (871996)
      What is wrong with monetizing it? There is money to be made all along the path of a disaster. Someone still has to transport disaster relief and pay for disaster supplies. Then someone has to rebuild the businesses behind the disaster. There are lots of places to make money while also helping those in need. You may not make huge profit margins like you can selling people worthless crap they want; but you can make a good money helping people using economies of scale. So you make $0.10 a head on 2 milli
  • Refreshing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2010 @09:15PM (#31491054)

    Thanks for this. Ive been getting sick of hearing about high profile lawsuits over patents and arguing over why this programming language or that database paradigm. This actually helps humanity, this is meaningful.

    • Everything that passes either into the public domain or is open source helps humanity in one way or another.
  • 'Our goal is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.' Sweet, I'll send this link to some of my tea party buddies.
  • /me likes :
    "The beta version platform is now available as an open source application that others can download for free,..."

    We just need to cheat in the annoying form at:
    http://download.ushahidi.com/ [ushahidi.com]

    • /me likes :
      "The beta version platform is now available as an open source application that others can download for free,..."

      We just need to cheat in the annoying form at:
      http://download.ushahidi.com/ [ushahidi.com]

      Well that same form points directly to github.

  • APRS (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is exactly what APRS does in the ham radio community since a good 20 years, and it does not need any special infrastructure. And yes, it can ALSO use the internet

  • Rainbow's End coming to fruition. Well, the beginning of it, anyway. No more psuedomimiviruses sneaking past!

    Hmm...I gotta go; I'm having a serious craving for some honeyed nougat all of a sudden. Ya gotta believe me!

    • by bh_doc (930270)

      So close... Rainbows End. It even points out the curious lack of an apostrophe in the book itself.

      Unless you were talking about the album or the amusement park.

      Yeah, I'm nitpicking. :-)

      • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

        So close... Rainbows End. It even points out the curious lack of an apostrophe in the book itself.
        Unless you were talking about the album or the amusement park.
        Yeah, I'm nitpicking. :-)

        Nitpick away, just don't spoil it! I'm only about 30% of the way into the book, so I haven't run into that explanation yet. :)

  • The only reason I can see for a digital ID, is something like this wired into our governmental bureaucracy. The Swedish gov. is trying to bootstrap such a system, and people seems to be liking it, generally. In fact, my ID card has a digital ID chip - it doesn't do anything at the moment, though.
  • I could use it to sell real estate on the cheap!

  • I'm skeptical (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday March 15, 2010 @10:15PM (#31491504) Journal

    Open platforms are built on a trust model that can be easily broken by a small* group of motivated individuals.
    So just wait until /b/tards decide to get their lulz by spamming the site with misinformation.
    Suddenly rape is everywhere and the database is polluted.

    *for the internet

    • I could easily be wrong but I can't recall an instance of /b/ misusing a worthwhile system like the Haiti or snowmageddon applications.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        I could easily be wrong but I can't recall an instance of /b/ misusing a worthwhile system like the Haiti or snowmageddon applications.

        I can't think of any off the top of my head either (which isn't to say that no trolling happened).

        But to expand on my original statement, if this system ever becomes widespread like 911/999/119/other emergency number, then it's going to attract the pranksters, cranks, and time wasters that every emergency system has to deal with... Except for one major difference: there will be almost no consequences for frakking with the system.

        Replace "pranksters" with "government organization" and you can easily see how

    • This is also explains the current state of America's democracy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Open platforms are built on a trust model that can be easily broken by a small* group of motivated individuals.
      So just wait until /b/tards decide to get their lulz by spamming the site with misinformation.
      Suddenly rape is everywhere and the database is polluted.

      *for the internet

      Lessons learned from previous deployments have led to work on this: http://swift.ushahidi.com/ - a filter and verification system. It's still in its very early stages though.

    • Legitimate criminals and psychos will LOVE this.

      "OMG! There is looting and raping and pillaging and war and famine and AIDS and cats raining from the sky OVER THERE! Quick, everyone, run to help and block police and news channels with calls - while we rob this bank over here. Then, we will create another "alert" for our getaway."

      Just imagine if Joker had access to this.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Even worse, imagine if instead of needing a fancy web browser or text messaging cellphone, it had an audio interface you could just talk to, maybe over a phone. And instead of texting 40404 you called a shorter number, like maybe 911, in this post 9/11 world that sounds like a good number for crisis reports. Then instead of distributing the map as a pic on the internet, you had someone read the locations and activities over a radio, that anyone could listen to with a "scanner".

        As far as criminal applicati

        • ...make a simple script that would do all that, with the system that you propose?
          With various voices (IPs), coming from various addresses (geolocation), with varying but similar descriptions of the same situation?

          You know... like it was actually coming from hundreds of people in dire need of assistance.
          Or would you just hire hundreds of actors to do all that dialing and talking over that radio-thing you mention?

    • There are no lulz to be had in messing with an emergency management system. Now if Twilight fangirls set up an instance to help them stalk Robert Pattison (sp?) it would be a different story.

      You should be worried about good ol' fashioned outlaws abusing the system - pay no attention to the looting, look at all the FIRE over there! Oh and rape over here! Oh and other looting all over the place!

      Obviously some kind of reputation + confirmation system should be used to help deal with this.

    • That doesn't sound like a /b/tards type attack. They normally target assholes. I could see them posting 1000's of rapes at Tom Cruises house or something, but I really don't think they would pick on Haiti. Now New Orleans that might be a different story. When you have a 300lb person complaining they are starving and haven't eaten in 2 hours since the storm, that is a more appropriate target. /b/tards are malicious in a good way. Kinda like Denis Leary in Demolition Man.
  • Useful (Score:3, Funny)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Monday March 15, 2010 @10:31PM (#31491588)

    I can see this being quite useful when the inevitable zombie / robot invasions happen.

  • What happens when communication lines are down? I assume they just fall back to first principles?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can see the map now...

    o - Help, emergency, need water here

    o - Coke! The drink that refreshes. Just $1 a can!

    o - Looting at this location!

    o - Grubb, cheap security services!

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @12:26AM (#31492162)

    I head the digital department at a nonprofit at the heart of the Haiti earthquake relief effort. The moment the earthquake hit I remembered reading about Ushahidi last year on the African tech blog White African [slashdot.org] written by Erik Hersman, one of the co-founders of the crisis-mapping tool. At the time I thought it might be an interesting way to source stories from our many staff on the ground in Africa, South America, and other places where internet coverage might be sparse but where cell coverage was robust. Spoke to them once, but didn't follow up on it further at the time.

    The moment the news came out about Port-au-Prince, I called Erik up to ask if they could set up an instance to help coordinate first responders and disaster relief; he and they were, and even had a team of Creole-speaking volunteers to handle incoming reports and translate back and forth from English. Watching reports pop up on the map from people who were texting SOS'es from inside collapsed buildings, the hair stood up on the back of my neck because I was seeing something altogether new, different, and important.

    Then reports started appearing from friends and relatives abroad, looking for loved ones who had been staying in the Hotel Montana and other major hotels for foreigners, or from expat Haitians desperate for news of their families back home. 5 days out from the event I participated on conference calls with the US State Department, Whitehouse, Red Cross, USAID, and UN Logistics Cluster and realized Ushahidi had the best actionable intelligence, bar none, and that all the other agencies had gravitated toward using it accordingly. They shared stories of the US Marines stationed on the USS Bataan anchored off Port-au-Prince begging the Pentagon for more satellite bandwidth so they could load the graphics properly, because they were scrambling missions to dig out people trapped in the rubble.

    10 days out the folks at Ushahidi got hold of the owner of Haiti's cellular provider, Digicel, and he gave them the ability to push SMS back out to Haitian subscribers with official, verified locations where people could get medical attention, food, water, shelter, etc. It was incredible.

    It's not often you witness something game-changing in action, but this was such a moment, and the tool was saving lives.

  • This is a really interesting concept. Not only from the demanding perspective (eg earthquake, blizzard) but think of the planning possibilities.

    If you add some metadata about the input (eg. a snow blocked road would be a requirement for clearance, and a snow plough would be a method of clearing) and a higher level system could start to organise resources accordingly, with or without human intervention.

    Of course, a "humanitarian crisis" would have human involvement anyway, but think about traffic for exampl

  • If this is "becoming a hero of the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes" - is this good or bad for the people affected by these quakes?!?
  • crowd source traffic data seems an obvious use anybody interested in writing iphone/android/s60 apps that give you a press to send SMS "big red button" to inform of being stuck in traffic? it would have significant advantages over existing fixed point traffic data and would link very usefully into OSM map based tools. Could someone cross-post this idea into the OSM talk space and/or on cloud made? (that someone might be me)
  • Just as a warning.
  • ...is that is was born in Africa, under dire circumstances regarding connectivity and developer skills. A look at the PHP code, however, would never make you suspect this. RESPECT.

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