Thursday, February 11, 2010

Network Infrastructure After a Crisis has occurred

Interestingly there is an organization for this purpose too. Check out NetHope . They go around establishing network infrastructure to mitigate the dire need for access to information technology to aid in collaboration in relief work.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Crisis Camp for Haiti Earthquake Victims

I recently attended a session organized by Crisis Commons at Yahoo Campus in Sunnyvale, CA to build applications that could be used by NGO and other relief organizers in Haiti working to help earthquake victims. My honest intention was to observe the kind of applications that people are building for such purpose and I have to admit I came back quite impressed with the plethora of applications.

Similar camps were being organized across the country. Conference calls were being held between volunteer project managers at different locations discussing project status, needs and hand-over of projects from the east coast locations to other locations at the end of the day. There was even a deployment environment provided for such applications. There were some stumbling blocks - such as scattered information on wikis, twitter and IRC channels and long searches for projects that needed developers. If you were a Ruby on Rails or an Android programmer or a translator, there were several projects that required urgent programmers. Several applications were being built around using maps to aid in emergency response and scraping twitter feeds and news articles to increase awareness. Mobile applications were being built as interface to several applications to help people on the field quickly communicate.

I would like to list the two projects that I believe could go a long way in aiding earthquake victims:

1. We Have We Need: A Craigslist type website to help people post needs and providers responds to those needs. The needs range from demands for crutches to requests to private plane owners to fly in relief supplies to Haiti

2. Person Finder: A mobile application to report the condition of individual people in Haiti.

I personally teamed up with few talented programmers who attempted to search twitter for tweets that were demanding help of different kinds in Haiti. The aim was to take a Twitter feed and put it under a generic category of different types of requests for help. We were not close to completing the project but I learnt several things about how Natural Language Processing Libraries such as Word Net could be used to identify the subject and context of the tweet and that of course using the Twitter API is a piece of cake.

For more information, check out the Crisis Commons Wiki