Copyright: 2016 EUMETSAT Editor’s Note: Isaac Kwamy is Director of Global Programs, Disaster Preparedness and Response, at NetHope, a consortium of 50 global nonprofits that partner with other committed corporations and funders to find, apply and scale technological solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems.
In the field of disaster response, we are constantly trying to assess the scale of the disaster and maintain situational awareness amid chaos. The ability to aggregate, synthesize and share reliable information rapidly helps humanitarian organizations determine if and where to respond. Then, if they do respond, it helps them make informed decisions about specifically where to target their relief efforts.
This is crisis informatics at its best.
At NetHope, we are grateful that The Patterson Foundation recognizes the importance of this work. Their recent investment funded our crisis informatics work in Haiti and made it possible for us to have funding in reserve for the next emergency’s crisis informatics work.
NetHope’s recent experiences responding to Hurricane Matthew, which slammed into Haiti on October 4th, illustrated the critical role of crisis informatics for NetHope’s consortium of premier humanitarian organizations. Here is a simplified version of how crisis informatics played a role in our emergency response in Haiti.
Alert Level 1 (Standby and Monitor) – When initial forecasts of the hurricane were issued, our NetHope team conducted an exhaustive data collection and vetting process for information coming from public and private information channels, including NetHope members, the United Nations Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), trusted social media accounts, reputable news sources, and other NGOs that were monitoring the hurricane. Once this information was curated, we determined how many of our members have a presence in Haiti and alerted our Emergency Response Working Group at NetHope.
Alert Level 2 (Monitor and Prepare) – After conducting our initial assessments and distributing the information we gathered through our networks, the NetHope team validated that the in-country NGO presence in Haiti was strong (with over 25 NetHope members actively responding in the region); humanitarian needs had been quickly identified and were being responded to; the government and local utilities were actively implementing a plan to restore telecommunications infrastructure; and the local ICT Working Group, coordinated by the United Nations, was in place to provide connectivity support. Now, knowing that that the local actors had the capacity and resources to restore communications infrastructure, NetHope elected not to deploy staff on the ground. Instead, we sharpened our focus on providing information remotely that could help our member NGOs working in Haiti, partners and other responders improve situational awareness and decision support.
In this response, our primary information-sharing vehicle was a Situation Report (SitRep). These SitReps include information that is customized to our member NGO and technology partner audience. They include insights from those in our network who are actively responding and who have access to information that may not be publicly available yet. In the early stages of an emergency, typically the first week, we publish NetHope SitReps every 24 hours. The reports summarize reliable information gathered from a variety of official governmental, organizational and media sources. They contain sections that are updated daily, including Summary of the Situation, Telecommunications and Power Updates, International Response, NetHope Members, Other Collaborating Groups, and Maps, Data and Information.
Alert Level 3 (Sunset and Stand-down) – At the three-to-four-week point of the remote crisis informatics support, which is where NetHope is now, the SitReps discontinue and normal ongoing recovery work continues.
As we wind down, it’s reassuring to know that NetHope can rely on the help of partners like The Patterson Foundation, along with Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Facebook, and others. They have helped shape our ability to respond appropriately around the world to emergencies that impact millions of women, men, and children. Each time, we get a little smarter and a little faster. Together, we help build a platform for hope."
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