2 Tech Tools for Emergencies from our Westgate Experience: Ping and Blood Donation

Erik Hersman
Sep 24, 2013

As we mentioned yesterday, it's been a bit of a crazy few days in Nairobi. The full Ushahidi team met yesterday (many virtually, of course), and we talked about many issues surrounding the Westgate siege and our own tools. This lead us to then think through our skills and tools, and where we could be useful. Two thoughts came immediately to mind:

the Ping app: group check-ins during an emergency

There was a consistent problem in every disaster that happens, not just in Kenya, but everywhere. Small groups, families and companies need to quickly check in with each other. They need to "ping" one another to make sure they're okay. It has to be something incredibly simple, that requires little thinking to use. People have been doing some stuff in this space in the past, the best like "I'm Ok" are focused on smartphone users, but we have a need to make it work for even the simplest phones. Our goal is to have this available for anyone globally to use.

The Ping App - a group check-in tool for emergencies
The Ping App - a group check-in tool for emergencies

"Ping" is basically a binary, multichannel check-in tool for groups. We're putting the first version of it up at Ping.Ushahidi.com - here's how it works:

You create a list of your people (family, organization), and each person also adds another contact who is close to them (spouse, roommate, boy/girlfriend, etc).

When a disaster happens, you send out a message for everyone to check-in. The admin sends out a 120 character message that always has "are you ok?" appended to the end.

This goes out via text message and email (more channels can be added later).

The message goes out three times, once every 5 minutes. If there is a response, then that person is considered okay. If no response, then 3 messages get sent to their other contact.

We file each response into one of 3 areas: responded (verified), not responded, not okay.

Every message that comes back from someone in that group is saved into a big bucket of text, that the admin can add notes to if needed.

Ping Notes, Features
Ping Architecture - rough draft

Yesterday we quickly wireframed out a list of needs, some design basics, and an architecture plan (images above), got a rough product going on it (code is on Github). We now need to make it look better, so some designers are working up some stuff to make it work well on both phones and computers.

Mockups of the Ping app, still undergoing some design tweeks

Final touches are to add in; account creation, message send screen, archive old campaigns feature, wire into text messaging service (Nexmo or Twilio), and then testing it out internally. If you'd like to help out, jump on the Github repo, and get in touch with us about what you can do.

Blood Donation Locations, and Needs

The Red Cross has been instrumental in mobilizing Kenyans these past few days. In the wake of this tragedy, thousands of Kenyans came out to donate blood or help those searching for their loved ones. The Red Cross team, understandably so,was overwhelmed, and most Kenyans were not aware of other blood centers around the country. One of the most amazing guys in Kenya in any emergency is Philip Ogola of the Kenya Red Cross. He's first on scene with great updates, but there's only so much that one person can do. Now, the Kenya Red Cross itself has been doing incredible work, but they have a problem with a lot of their stuff still being paper and pen (and there's another group working on a locally hosted database system to digitize this without putting real people's names online, run by Nivi of eLimu). Another problem that they have is that the hospitals are running short on some types of blood, and are overwhelmed with others, as the Kenyan population comes out in full force to donate blood. How can this be managed better, so that people aren't turned away from some places and so that they know where to go for their type? We set up a crowdmap deployment to map our all locations of blood drive centers, in an effort to match these areas with those willing to help at BloodDonationKenya.Crowdmap.com, either through blood donation, medical instruments or medical personnel.

Post-Westgate: Blood Donation Sites in Kenya
Post-Westgate: Blood Donation Sites in Kenya

How you can help:

We'll need some help keeping the supply needs updated, so if you're game to do that let us know.

We also need to start geolocating all of the places that you can donate blood and the times that they're open.

It's times like this where it takes a community of people to get things done. We've seen this already in action in so many ways, through food for tired workers, blood donations and money donations. In the midst of a terrible time, we also see the best of humanity shine through.