Tag Archives: Haiti

Want a map of the cholera epidemic in Haiti? Here are five …

PAHO: Chlorea outbreak situation map

Image by mediahacker via Flickr

Post by Kim Stephens

Crisis Mapping is an important tool for response organizations because a map can provide a visualization of events, needs of survivors, and also an aggregation of response activities. And a map can be created in near real-time. Mapping epidemics, particularly cholera, is of particular importance because it gives a visualization of how quickly and where the disease is spreading. As the death toll from the tragic cholera outbreak in Haiti surpasses 1000, you can look to maps created by several different organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, to see its grim progression. One issue, however, seems to be the sheer number of maps available and the duplication of effort regarding their creation. As noted by Chris Thompson of Humanity Road:

There are many different types of maps that are being used and different elements mapped to each for various focus areas – safe water sources, versus cholera cases, versus locations of cholera treatment centers.   To some degree there is duplication that we would like to see eliminated, but unfortunately, that is not the case.

Another limitation I observed is that although the map-producing groups indicate that they are collaborating, each one tends to keep its own map on its own website. In addition, the maps do vary regarding  how well their user-interface works.

After reviewing current mapping efforts for the epidemic in Haiti, I have two questions for which I cannot find answers:  (1) Who is using these maps for operations in the field?  And (2) which one(s) are they relying on?  Although Ms. Thompson did offer assurances that both government and humanitarian organizations were using maps created by technology volunteers, she really couldn’t provide me a concrete example (if one exist please comment). In short, while a lot of well-meaning individuals and organizations are gathering and sharing data, who is using it?  We know more about the supply of information than the demand for and use of it.

Here are five examples  of mapping efforts that I found in the past few days:

(1.) Since the first case was confirmed on Sept. 19, according to the U.N.’s Cholera Inter-sector Response Strategy for Haiti, the humanitarian response has been led by the Ministry of Public Health and Populations (MSPP) with support from the  Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization. The PAHO interactive map of  the epidemic represents cholera cases with varying shades of red, giving the viewer a quick understanding where cases are concentrated. It is, however, somewhat difficult to decipher anything other than at the macro-level.  From the PAHO website you can also click on a map of  health related resources in Haiti is simply called “Resource Finder”.  At first glance this is an impressive list of health facilities, their availability, capacity, and services. Upon closer inspection, however, under each of those categories  “No information” was posted instead. This google doc. explains that this list is of all facilities before the earthquake.

(2.) The Health Map, which I have written about before, uses color coded pushpins overlaid on a Google Map to represent validated reports of cholera cases as well as information about where to find clean drinking water and health facilities. According to their website, their maps are populated by data combed from “20,000 global news and health Web sites and blogs each hour.”  Reports are sorted by disease, relevance and location. And “it uses text-mining algorithms to aggregate and sort this information.” An “Alerts-Now-Showing” box beneath the map gives a list of each of the reports, sorted by date. Useful overlays include:

  • New Safe Water Installations
  • Water Points
  • Haiti health facilitates
  • Cholera treatment centers
  • Emergency shelters

HealthMap displays a note that they are collaborating with CrisisMappers and Humanity Road and their combied efforts were recently highlighted in a CNN report: Texts, Maps Battle the Haiti Cholera Outbreak. The article states the importance of the effort:

“On the mapping side of things, volunteers around the world are sorting through text messages, tweets and emergency response information to create real-time maps that can be used to push emergency aid to places where it is most urgently needed. Those maps are also available to local people with internet access.”

(3.) Biosurveillance map was created by Dr. James Wilson of the Haiti Epidemic Advisory System (HEAS), find his blog at Biosurveillance. They boldly state: “While the UN OCHA maps and official MSPP reporting tends to focus on Artibonite and points north, there are other areas routinely not included on the OCHA maps that have reported cholera.  We opt on the side of “cholera until proven otherwise” or when political sensitivity is such that full disclosure and transparency allows.” Collaborators for Biosurveillance include: CrisisMappers, HealthMap, InSTEDD, ProMED, Society of Critical Care Medicine, Ushahidi, Vethnography, Wildlife Conservation Society.

I find this map very hard to interpret, however. There is simply a symbol representing cases on a Google map. There is no other information available by clicking on the icon. For better information, skip the map and go instead to their blog which has some useful statistics regarding total cases and fatalities by region.

(4.) Reports culled from tweeted messages are curated by hand and placed on a Google Map by the  Project EPIC team. From their website:

Our team and an ever-growing group of collaborators involved in Crisis Camps have developed, evolved, deployed, and technologically leveraged a hashtag-based syntax to help direct Twitter communications for more efficient data extraction for those communicating about the Haiti earthquake disaster. Use requires modifications of Tweet messages to make information pieces that refer to #location, #status, #needs, #damage and several other elements of emergency communications more machine readable.

Color-coded icons represent different categories of data, typical of maps with overlays of information on one platform. For example, orange icons represent cholera treatment centers and by selecting one icon the user sees a pop-up window containing the following information: the author of the report, time of tweet, report type, geo-location including lat./long if possible, and the actual tweet. The following is an actual tweet from the field after it has been “tweaked”:

#haiti #cholera #loc Hospital Grande Riviere du Nord  (latitude and longitude are given) #need all cholera supplies & nurses. (Note: the tweets read a bit strangely because they have been put into a machine-readable format).

The user can also mouse over to a list all of the individual tweets in spreadsheet format. I’m not really sure who is using this map in-country, that information is not listed and the UN also has a map of treatment facilities. However, the level of detail and the fact that someone in the hospital “tweeted” their needs leaves the reader with hope that someone with the ability to help is viewing all of this aggregated information. One critic of this type of crowdsourcing even asked the question directly “Is crowdsourcing raising expectations that cannot be met?”

(5.) Noula.ht is an organization in Haiti created after the earthquake. They also have a map. However, since it is in Creole its difficult for most westerners to discern. From the CNN piece, the founder of Noula states: “We wanted to provide a platform and have it available to reinforce our local capacity to face disasters.” Green circles with numbers inside them represent the location and concentration of cholera cases.

I think I could have found 10 more maps but decided to stop at five.  I wish I could report on the impact these efforts are having on the ground, but that information is not yet available. When I find it, I will happily pass it along.  While I do not expect anyone to achieve a quantitative measure of success, a qualitative measure would be interesting.

An important document that addresses some of these concerns, especially regarding developing a common operating picture, is from the ICT for peace foundation.

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International Conference of Crisis Mappers, Four Themes


Intensity map for the 2010 Haiti earthquake

Image via Wikipedia


Post by: Kim Stephens

The International Conference of Crisis Mappers (Oct. 1-3) brought together many different groups of experts, with disciplines ranging from geospatial intelligence to international humanitarian relief, to focus in part on lessons learned from the response to Haiti. At the start of  the conference Patrick Meier, one of the event organizers, asked participants to reflect on how communication, cooperation and coordination can be improved for future responses to large-scale disasters. He reminded the audience, “Haiti is a clear outlier…we should be inspired by the response…but should not use it as our only model for moving forward.”

By examining tweets from the audience made during the morning presentations, I was able to tease out several themes that emerged:

1. Response organizations in Haiti mostly had to rely on low-tech solutions for mapping since the country had little technology infrastructure.

  • Paper maps were the norm for those working the response on the ground.
  • Information gaps existed, according to some, due to a lack of technology and spatial awareness of both the citizens in the affected country and the response community.
  • Information overload on the ground is what stops most collaboration/coordination from happening.
  • No matter how many digital maps are made, ultimately, decisions are made from sitreps and verbal agreements on the ground. Therefore, there are real challenges in incorporating crowdsourced information into established organizations and data flows.

2. Finding information about the affected area was sometimes easier to gather from those not in the impacted zone (e.g. , those in the Diaspora), although getting that information into the hands of responders in the field was a   challenge.

  • Discovering information about a particular place doesn’t always have to come from  survivors. Sometimes a “local” can be physically very far from the disaster location (a large number of ex-patriots wanted to help and had first hand knowledge of the impacted area).
  • Ushahidi’s best accomplishment could very well have been crowdsourcing volunteers.
  • Crowdsourcing also occurred in traditional organizations. The World Bank’s Galen Evans described how over 600 earthquake engineers were essentially crowdsourced to analyze aerial data.
    • Everyone wants to help in a disaster, but we should think about what experts can be utilized during an event before the event.
  • Was the information coming from SMS texts reliable? Christine Corbane from the Joint Research Centre explained how their research found geo-tagged, crowdsourced SMS text messages highly correlated to the spatial distribution of building damage intensity in Port-au-Prince.

3. The crisis mapping community can add value to the response community, but processes to do so need to be established.

  • The crisis mapping community can translate each affected person’s story during a disaster into actionable data so that crisis managers can act. (See great new blog post by Gisli Olafsson on this topic.)
  • But, creating a common language among cartographers, humanitarians and beneficiaries is tricky: we need to develop baseline cartographic literacy.
  • The UN’s OCHA representative described how the emerging technology community and the humanitarian community don’t speak the same language. The one thing we have in common is that we all want to help. Questions remain:
    • Who coordinates the crowds?
    • How does the tech community fit into the UN cluster groups?
    • Can the crowd be used for data processing and data cleaning?
    • Why didn’t these groups coordinate during the event? Everyone was overloaded, pre-event coordination needs to occur.
  • The keys to success will be shared standards, shared situational awareness, and shared goals.
  • Standard operating procedures should be put in place to help govern this information sharing.

4. Affected populations or nations can and should be empowered to help themselves.

  • Ushahidi representative noted how empowering the local community in Haiti was key, and the locals eventually took over information curation.
  • The Grassroots Mapping Network discussed how simple technology can be employed for data anaylsis:  anyone can use their kit to fly a kite or balloon with a camera attached and gather data without the need for a satellite connection.  This inexpensive solution can help communities do their own mapping.
  • A representative from Development Seed discussed how we should think about needs first and technology second because there are many places that have limited technology capabilities. He stated:”This is why we are building really tiny software” and introduced maps on a stick, or maps on USB drives loaded with spatial data for low resource settings. This can help people in the field, even those that don’t have internet connections.

One tweet sort of sums up the day: Does better data come from improved technology or more meaningful engagement of locals?”

For a complete summary of each speaker, see the blog of  Jillian C. York who transcribed the talks as they occurred.

For a more complete after action report on Crisis Information Management during the Haitian earthquake: see: “Haiti and Beyond” by the ICT for Peace Foundation, March 2010.

5 Ways Social Media are used for Disaster Recovery

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Post by: Kim Stephens

Yesterday I posed the question:  Is the frequency of using social media in crises and disasters bringing new innovations, progress, and improvements to crisis communications? Today, I would like to highlight 5 ways that social media have contributed positively to the recovery process, particularly with regard to citizens helping themselves and others.

1. Social Media are used for on-line collaboration to aid those in need.

Citizens providing aid to those affected by a disaster is nothing new. People have donated time, goods, money, etc. to disaster survivors probably since we walked upright. What’s new is the ease in which collaboration can occur.  The Four-Mile-Fire Help forum/website (re Boulder CO wildfires) is a case in point. The Forum operates as a clearinghouse for those offering assistance and those needing assistance. Everything you can imagine is listed from insurance help, animal help, food help, free therapy sessions; but the most viewed item is “housing help”. By choosing that link you see a list of people and businesses who have houses to rent, or space in their homes. People who need a place to stay can post their needs there as well.

However, with regard to monetary donations, there are mixed results. One article, Haiti Disaster Relief: Evaluating the Impact of Social and Digital Media, written just one-month after the earthquake, concluded: “although the role of mobile giving has been widely covered, its true impact is difficult to understand. Perhaps it increased the total number of donations or gained donors from a younger, previously unreached audience. But the negative impact of mobile donations is the danger of possibly cannibalizing potential larger donations because it tends to operate on the very low donations level.”

But others articles refute the claim that it’s only about mobile giving.  The article How Social Good Has Revolutionized Philanthropy illustrates how social media is used not only for soliciting donations, but for building a community. “Social good can bring attention to a cause and the companies trying to solve it without blindly canvassing for donations (or “the ask”). One person they interviewed for that article explained that its not just about money, saying “I want to build a relationship with someone over the next couple of years.”

Similarly, another on-line collaboration tool came from the Facebook company when it created “Global Disaster Relief on Facebook“.  Their stated purpose:

“We want Disaster Relief on Facebook to serve as a collaborative resource for individuals, non-profits, governments and industry to raise awareness for those in need around the world. We’re inviting relief organizations to be part of this effort so they can further highlight their needs during times of crisis. Most importantly, we hope all of you will join us by becoming a fan of Disaster Relief on Facebook and by continuing to support relief efforts along with your friends.”

The page has over 500,000 fans and has links to 16 different non-profit organizations and is helpful for those looking for a valid organization to send a contribution (which brings up another, somewhat uglier social behavior: exploitation). Also, see the article about the American Red Cross for another great example of non-profit organizations using social media to build a community.

UPDATE: Sept. 22, Facebook has announced the launch of a new social network called “Jumo”, which is described as a social networking website for non-governmental organizations with the idea of building relationships with people who feel strongly for a cause.  Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, was interviewed on “Talk of the Nation” yesterday and explained his motivation for the new network:

“We have networks that make it easy to connect with friends, to find a good restaurant to go to dinner, to watch a movie instantly, yet there’s no network for the social sector,” says Hughes. “The more that people know about a cause or a problem, the more that they know about the people who are working to develop solutions or implement solutions, the more likely they are to be aware of it or support those solutions.”

2. Social Media facilitate expressions of gratitude. [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=boulder+wildfire&iid=9697291″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9697291/wild-fire-burns-homes-near/wild-fire-burns-homes-near.jpg?size=500&imageId=9697291″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]Expressing gratitude to public safety personnel is by no means confined to the social media world,  but it is interesting that a group formed on Facebook explicitly for this purpose after the Boulder, Colorado fire. Their page”Fourmile Heroes“is dedicated solely to thanking the response personnel. Their stated purpose is “…dedicated to expressing thanks and giving back to all responding heroes…that fought the devastating Fourmile Fire in Boulder, Colorado.” Through the page they organized a parade and mobilized citizens to show up at that event in order to honor the public safety personnel involved and also raise money for those in need. What is new here is not the “why” but the “how”.

3. Social media facilitate expressions of grief.

Although the examples above were related to the Fourmile fire in Colorado, I’d like to use an example of how social media can aid in recovery from an example closer to home. Recently a teenager (14) was killed in our community. Of course the kids who knew him, even those that didn’t, were overwhelmed  with grief.  Through social media they were able to post their comments on the deceased’s facebook page, watch old videos of him singing on YouTube, and organize themselves through forwarded text messages to wear his favorite color to school the first day back after his death. These same sorts of activities occur on a larger scale when an entire community is affected by a disaster, or when more than one person dies, as in the Virginia Tech Shooting incident. See the scholarly article: A Framework to Identify Best Practices: Social Media and Web 2.0 Technologies in the Emergency Domain by Connie White and Linda Plotnick. They call this “social convergence”.

4. Social media are used to share an individual’s experiences of the crisis or disaster.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=new+zealand+earthquake&iid=9703158″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9703158/earthquake-rocks-new/earthquake-rocks-new.jpg?size=500&imageId=9703158″ width=”380″ height=”253″ /]

Sharing your experience after a disaster is cathartic. Social media appears to be filling this need. After the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake a facebook page was created with the title “I survived the Christchurch Earthquake“. The stated purpose of the group was simply “WOW”. More than thirteen thousand people “like” that page. It seems to just be a place that people can post their pictures.Their discussion page, however, does list some “useful websites for information”.

5. Social media are used to provide information after the mainstream media have left the story. [picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=bp+oil+spill&iid=9804410″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9804410/file-photo-health-advisory/file-photo-health-advisory.jpg?size=500&imageId=9804410″ width=”380″ height=”293″ /]Once the response phase of a disaster comes to an end, the mainstream media (and maybe even the government) declares the event over and leaves, sometimes well before the community has recovered, see Gulf Oil Well is Dead but Pain Will Remain. Blogs, facebook pages, and online community groups or forums are sometimes one of the few outlets for information for citizens: hundreds of tweets mentioning BP Oil Spill or Deepwater Horizon can still be found. Increasingly, local governments, and even the federal government are using social media to fill the void as well. The Deepwater Horizon federal response facebook page is still up and running (almost 38,000 people “like” their page–although some of the comments lead you to believe they don’t like it at all).

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