Haiti and the Power of Crowdsourcing

Jan 12, 2012

It's been two years today since Haiti's devastating earthquake... here's a blog post from then on the power of crowdsourcing in crisis response. Cross-posted from iRevolution.net

It's been two weeks since I called David Kobia to launch Ushahidi's crisis mapping platform in Haiti. I could probably write 100 blog posts on the high's and low's of the past 14 days. Perhaps there will more time be next month to recount the first two weeks of the disaster response. For now, I wanted to share an astounding example of crowdsourcing that took place 10 days ago.

Boston, January 17, 8pm

Picture a snowy Boston evening and the following "Situation Room" a.k.a. my living room at Blakeley Hall, part of The Fletcher School.

My fellow PhD colleague Anna Schulz, who has rapidly become an expert in satellite imagery analysis and geolocation, receives an urgent request via Skype from InSTEDD's Eric Rasmussen pictured below with Nico di Tada. That tent is pitched right next to the runway of Port-au-Prince's international airport, some 1,600 miles south of Boston.

The urgent request? GPS coordinates for 7 key locations across Port-au-Prince where many Haitians were known to be trapped under rubble. They needed to communicate this information to the Search and Rescue (SAR) teams before 0600. Anna immediately got to work.

Boston, January 17, 8.30pm

An hour later, Anna had found the GPS coordinates for all but one of the locations for the rescue operations.

Boston, January 17, 9.41pm

Boston, January 17, 10.26pm

Some time later, the same urgent request originally sent by Eric and Nico appears on the CrisisMappers Google Group:

Boston, January 17, ~11.00pm

At Anna's request, I send out the following Tweet on Ushahidi.

Boston, January 18, ~1.00am

The following report is submitted to the Ushahidi-Haiti platform by someone from the Twittersphere:

Boston, January 18, 1.20am

My colleague Jaroslav in The Fletcher Situation room Skypes back to Anna: Courtesy of high-resolution satellite imagery on Google Earth:

Boston, January 18, ~2.00am

It's getting late but the ALL CAPS in this Tweet to Ushahidi catches my eye:

My colleague Jaroslav and I decide to try the number. Low and behold, we get Marc on the phone after just one ring. With a mixture of English and French, we find out that he was indeed a former employee of Au Bon Prix which happens to be a book store just off "Au Champs de Mars" near the Palace. We immediately Skype this information back to Eric and Nico at Port-au-Prince airport.

Boston, January 18, ~2.15am

Boston, January 18, ~4.30am

It's still snowing in Boston. Time to get a few hours of sleep. We hand over operations to the Ushahidi Team in Africa.

Patrick Philippe Meier