Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda): The Mapping Response from the Tech Community

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Typhoon Haiyan (locally referred to as ‘Yolanda’[1]) made landfall in the Philippines on Friday November 8th 2013. Officially, 1839 people have been killed as a direct result of the disaster, 2624 have been injured and 84 people are missing[2].

Since then, aid has been pouring in from all over the world, currently to an estimated value of nearly £60 million[3] ($96 million). That money has been spent supplying food, clean water, shelter and even aeroplanes. Charities including the Salvation Army[4], the Red Cross[5] and MapAction[6] have provided doctors, food parcels, drinking water and situational information maps in a bid to manage the impact of a typhoon that, at its most powerful, devastated the islands with wind speeds of up to 235mph[7] (380km/h) and storm surges reaching 5m[8].

Public donations have been inspiring, with UK residents pledging over £1.5 million ($2.4 million) within hours of televised appeals being broadcast[9]; a response that the chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) described as “staggering”[10].

The tech community, too, has been swift to respond. Online communities such as Geeklist[11] and The Standby Task Force[12] have organised hackathons, coordinated crisis mapping and opened discussions with first responders. I have seen first-hand – and been involved with – just one of the projects that has sprung up out of Geeklist’s #hack4good campaign, of which their Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hackathon[13] forms a part. The project in question is a crowsourced, interactive map, which plots reports of school closures, locations of aid stations, clean water and even data connectivity through Twitter mining and user submissions. It has even attracted the attention of the President’s Office in the Philippines.


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Interactive mapping that is self-populating and efficiently moderated can provide valuable support material to those on the ground.

Interactive mapping that is self-populating and efficiently moderated can provide valuable support material to those on the ground.

This is of course not the only example of technology and technologists being used to aid the relief effort. Geeklist alone has 14 active projects, and an ideas pool of over 30 proposals for apps, websites, coordination tools and official news outlets.[14]

Evidently, technology is beginning to change the way in which communities, aid agencies and even Governments respond to natural disasters. Social media in particular has kept the world up-to-date with live tweets, videos and images of the disaster in the Philippines.[15] Before the Typhoon even made landfall last Friday, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)[16] sent an urgent request to the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN)[17] requesting it utilise its volunteer base to trawl through social media outlets and other online resources, to begin digitally mapping the impact of Haiyan.[18]

Naturally, the deluge of information that Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube and other social media provide can often lead to an increase in the amount of “noise” that such projects intercept; meaning information that is irrelevant to the task at hand. This causes the problem of not only diluting the meaning of the data being received, but it also presents a potentially daunting administration task, requiring time spent on filtering out unnecessary information.

There are some solutions to this problem – a free, open-source platform called SwiftRiver[19] is one such example – whereby users simply filter data as it arrives, and the software can be ‘taught’ what information is important, and what can be ignored. Users can also set ‘trusted’ data sources, allowing information delivered by certain third parties to be immediately utilised.

Technology then, is having a greater influence over how we – as the Global Community – can respond to natural disasters, and do our utmost to ensure that whatever the consequences, we can play our part in managing the recovery process.

Campaigns and organisations such as Geeklist’s #hack4good and the Standby Task Force are still very much involved in the relief work being undertaken in the Philippines, and contributors and volunteers are still highly sought after to get projects off the ground – projects that might just save lives. If you are interested in helping those affected by Haiyan, you can donate, volunteer or even join a hackathon to develop something life-saving.

We can all do something.

References

 

[1] “Typhoon Haiyan: Philippines declares state of calamity.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24901993>

[2] “Updates: Typhoon Yolanda | Official Gazette of the Republic of the …” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.gov.ph/crisis-response/updates-typhoon-yolanda/>

[3] “Typhoon Haiyan: Flow Of Foreign Aid Quickens.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://news.sky.com/story/1167801>

[4] “The Salvation Army – Home.” 2002. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/>

[5] “American Red Cross | Disaster Relief, CPR Certification, Donate Blood.” 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.redcross.org/>

[6] “MapAction Home Page.” 2004. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.mapaction.org/>

[7] Robert Williams. “Typhoon Haiyan: Most powerful storm to ever hit land batters Philippines with 235mph winds.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/typhoon-haiyan-most-powerful-storm-to-ever-hit-land-batters-philippines-with-235mph-winds-8926719.html>

[8] “Mapping Typhoon Haiyan.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24917722>

[9] “‘Staggering’ response to television appeal for Philippines typhoon aid donations.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/haiyan-staggering-response-to-television-appeal-for-philippines-typhoon-aid-donations-8936383.html>

[10] “‘Staggering’ response to television appeal for Philippines typhoon aid donations.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/haiyan-staggering-response-to-television-appeal-for-philippines-typhoon-aid-donations-8936383.html>

[11] “Geeklist – A place for geeks to share what they’ve done, who they did …” 2011. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://geekli.st/>

[12] “The Standby Task Force | We believe that digital volunteers are key …” 2010. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://blog.standbytaskforce.com/>

[13] “Geeklist’s Hackathon Management App.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <https://geekli.st/hackathon/52793a2660fb3f52d50001f8>

[14] “Geeklist’s Hackathon Management App.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <https://geekli.st/hackathon/52793a2660fb3f52d50001f8>

[15] “Supertyphoon Haiyan: How Technology Is Changing Disaster Response.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://techland.time.com/2013/11/13/typhoon-haiyan-how-technology-is-changing-disaster-response/>

[16] “OCHA | Coordination Saves Lives.” 2003. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.unocha.org/>

[17] “Digital Humanitarian Network.” 2012. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://digitalhumanitarians.com/>

[18] “Supertyphoon Haiyan: How Technology Is Changing Disaster Response.” 2013. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://techland.time.com/2013/11/13/typhoon-haiyan-how-technology-is-changing-disaster-response/>

[19] “SwiftRiver – | Ushahidi.” 2010. 14 Nov. 2013 <http://www.ushahidi.com/products/swiftriver-platform>


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