On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is based in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team - and other teams - if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganized, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, ,companies with staff distributed within and across countries as well as part of neighbourhood networks, like neighborhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately I opened up the TenFour app.

  1. I set up a message, “Are you okay after the Dusit attacks?” Yes or No?

2. I selected it to be sent across all channels: SMS, email, in-app, Slack, and Voice.

3. Then I selected my Kenya Team group, which I had created previously. The group contained my Nairobi staff.

4. I also added one of our board members, who I knew was visiting the offices this week.

5. Then I pressed send.

The entire process took about 30 seconds from start to finish. There were less than five clicks (not including typing “...after the Dusit attacks?). I was able to reach 15 of my staff across five channels, nearly instantly.

Within six minutes I got “yes” responses from 10 of the 15 messages. Five had not yet answered. I scrolled down and realized that four of those recipients where test accounts or were multiple email addresses (for instance I am both Nat and Nathaniel at Ushahidi) and that they had actually already responded. Then I called the last unaccounted for person directly. They answered and said they were okay. If they had not responded I would have called their emergency contact. Everyone was accounted for. It took about 7 minutes to guarantee the team was okay. During the Westgate attack this process had taken over an hour.

Every day terrible things happen in world. Every day we wake up thinking it won’t happen to us, because that is the only way we can go about our lives. For team, community, friends and loved ones in Kenya, this attack has reopened wounds from previous attacks, and subjected many Kenyans to intense and unimaginable trauma. I live in California, and if I thought too long and hard about earthquakes or fires, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. I have to put on my Superman cape, my invisible shield of belief that today is going to be fine, so that I can go about life. We all wear superman capes, because if we dwelled too long on the risks and threats, it would paralyze us.

After events like Westgate or the Riverside attack, we have a few days, weeks, or months, where we think about our emergency plans. We set up protocols. We think about how we could of done it better. For instance, after a tremor last year, I spent the next weekend setting up an earthquake kit; crazy that I had lived in California for seven years without one! But after some time we get back to life, and we begin to wake up and put on our Superman capes again. If it wasn’t for that tremor, I still wouldn’t have an earthquake kit.

The attacks in Kenya are a tragedy - and many such tragedies happen every year, usually when we are least prepared.

It is important, for everyone to take some time to grieve, but also take a moment to prepare. One of the best way we can respect those who are lost is to care for the living.

Please go review your organization’s emergency security plan. Ask simple questions. Do you have a tool, a process, a protocol to make sure everyone is okay? When was it last updated? Is everyone trained? I wrote a piece on the seven steps to building an effective emergency plan. Please use this and share it.

We’ve created a tool that we think will help, TenFour. There are many different ways to keep your people safe. So please figure out what works best for you. We are offering the pro version of TenFour for free for three months, to any organizations, communities, companies, schools, churches, or anyone else in Kenya who would like to test this tool out for preparedness. You can sign up using the coupon code BeSafeKenya.

Please take this moment to huddle with your team, office, community and make a plan. Preparing for a crisis may not seem urgent but it is incredibly important - a matter of life or death, in fact. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all Kenyans in the aftermath of this horrific attack, and heartfelt condolences to all who lost loved ones.