Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies, a new report written by a team of researchers from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), outlines ways that aid workers can use technology to tap into information flows during a humanitarian emergency. The report was released on March 28 by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Foundation, and the Vodafone Foundation.
People in even the poorest countries are rapidly buying cell phones and adopting social media, according to the report. During a crisis such as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan or last year’s disaster in Haiti, people can text and tweet their whereabouts and the problems they are encountering. This can not only help rescuers find those trapped in the rubble, but it can also create a crowd-sourced picture of what’s going on in a particular area. Another key source of information is the loose network of volunteer and technical communities using satellite imagery and other sources to quickly create accurate maps of stricken locations.
Improving the flow of information to aid workers in the field – who are often dropped into chaotic situations with little information – could be revolutionary, HHI Director Michael Van Rooyen told the Harvard Gazette. “We work in a data-poor environment, an environment where it’s very difficult to find out how many people are affected, what is the degree of vulnerability, what are the vulnerable subgroups, where are they located, how to find out how to service them, and then track all the needs.”