Tag Archives: Ushahidi

How the Internet Changes Human Geography (part 3 of 3)

In part one of this series, we explored changes in the landscape of human geography.  In part two we explored the online technologies that help users deal with new geospatial data.  In this final installment we’ll examine how new data and new technology has created change in the crisis mapper community.

Emergency Response is an Early Adopter of Collaborative Geography

The Ushahidi platform provides an open source technology for grass-roots news creation and curation.

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is an open source platform originally created to help facilitate grassroots reports of violence following elections in Kenya in 2008.  During its use in 2008, it rapidly expanded to over 45,000 users in Kenya, and today it is the most widely used platform for local-level geospatial reporting.  Capable of accepting input from SMS text messages or Internet-based Web forms, it has played an important role in the recent history of emergency response in Haiti, Afghanistan, and Chile.

AliveInAfghanistan, an Ushahidi-based website, set out to monitor reports of fraud and violence during the period surrounding elections in 2009-2010.  More successfully than any other source, AliveInAfghanistan (officially sponsored by the Pajhwok news agency) provided up-to-date micro-stories detailing exactly what was taking place across the country.  Such a capability is especially important in developing countries that lack a strong government infrastructure for monitoring local security and that have weak information exchange capabilities.

During earthquakes in Chile in 2010, Ushahidi was used extensively to aggregate field reports on activity following the natural disaster.  More than 1,200 earthquake damage assessments and situation reports were uploaded via the Web and SMS.  Such information served as an important catalyst for getting aid to the right place at the right time.

In the lull between emergencies, you can find NGO staff and emergency responders hanging out at Crisis Mappers, a Ning-powered social networking site that connects hundreds of professionals and volunteers interested in helping bring geospatial data to bear in crisis situations.  The site’s mission is “leveraging mobile platforms, computational and statistical models, geospatial technologies, and visual analytics to power effective early warning for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies.”

Borrowing techniques from the Facebook playbook, Crisis Mappers is a growing online community where users are encouraged to express their experience and ideas related to humanitarian emergencies through blogs, videos, discussion forums, and internal mail.

On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeastern region of Japan and damaged a nuclear power plant.  As emergency responders from Japan, China, and the United States swung into action, Internet users were uploading vitally important messages and images about the aftermath via Twitter and Flickr.  Although restoration efforts of the affected areas still continue, the geospatial data provided by Internet users in Japan provided critical indicators for emergency responders operating in the area.

What’s next?
New technology is proving to be a powerful force, driving significant changes in the community of online mapping.  As Internet users join together to co-create geographic content, use Web-based tools for geospatial analysis, and work together in emergency response scenarios, they are rapidly leaving the governments of the world behind.