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Haiti earthquake tests Crisis Commons' disaster response

Haiti earthquake tests Crisis Commons’ disaster response

After Haiti

The day after the earthquake, several people convened in the D.C. area and organized a Crisis Camp. The launch point was the Crisis Commons wiki, an online workspace for project and volunteer coordination at

Crisis Commons's D.C. organizers tweeted, “We don't have a location yet, but we want to have something on Saturday to see what we can do,” recalls Dickover. Within an hour, someone in Silicon Valley posted a similar message. The first weekend there were five different camps–D.C., Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Colorado and Brooklyn–with about 400 volunteers in all. These weren't camps where participants just discussed ideas; people came to work. Projects were quickly formed: The 30 percent of the volunteers who were coders started writing code, while others worked on projects that required fewer technical skills.

One of the most crucial projects was building a new base-layer map for the Port-au-Prince area. Before the Haiti earthquake, no one had bothered to create accurate, detailed maps of the country because it didn’t have a GPS market. Now maps were critical to the relief effort. This was something non-coders could do, Dickover explains: Just take a satellite image and, using online open-source mapping software, trace a mouse on the map where the road ought to go.

Other projects had to do with data sharing and relief coordination. For example, a water-distribution non-governmental organization (NGO) delivering water in Haiti could use not just a map of distribution sites, but also information about stock levels and the number of people using the water. “They could see a place where the relief operation was going full swing, but was running out of water. That’s a far better use of their money than just delivering water wherever,” Dickover says.

Jamie Swedberg is a freelance business and technology writer based in Athens, Ga.



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Haiti earthquake tests Crisis Commons' disaster response

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