Published on April 23rd, 2013 | by EJC1
Boston Bombings To Hurricane Sandy: Volunteer Community Responds To Bridge The Gap
In the past week, we witnessed a series of natural and man-made emergencies in the world varying from the Boston Marathon bombings to the devastating earthquake in Sichuan, as well as hundreds of people killed in the Damascus and Nigeria Fightings. Particularly in the case of the Boston explosions, social networks were loaded with situational updates, and even a manhunt was carried out by the crowd on networks such as Reddit, complicating the official investigation in identifying the suspects.
But what we need to realise is that, during any types of emergencies, there are a cluster of individuals looking for accurate information sources to provide shelter advice and that can confirm the status of the safety of their relatives and friends. Connecting individuals requires a huge amount of effort, especially when it comes to taking on these tasks while verifying official information and getting a bigger picture of the events.
There are, of course, a number of open source databases that are set up immidiately after a disaster, such as Google’s Person Finder. But what if those in need cannot confirm their loved ones’ safety by using these tools, or simply do not have an access to them? In addition, individuals finding him/herself in a disaster really just want a quick outline of crucial information and contacts. Acting on our own with technology can be tough especially in these circumstances, but there are volunteer communities who dedicate their time and effort to become a ‘bridge’ and support individuals when it comes to gathering critical information.
With its core mission to educate the public before, during and after a catastrophic disaster on how to survive, sustain, and reunite with their loved ones, Humanity Road compiled a situation report with a dozen trained volunteers and team leads with FEMA-supported trainings based all over the world.
Published within 2.30 hrs after the explosions, the situation report provided a list of hashtags and Twitter handles of local hospitals, police and fire-brigades, creating one-stop-shops for the locals based in Boston area.
All research and data collection are done on the Net; verifying information on social media, getting updates from trusted international/local relief organisations, and communicating with each other via Skype. When verifying the contents on social networks, they not only rely on updates from news agencies but also get in direct contact with the crowd to identify the authenticity and use search engine and other tools to validate information. Working in a team of both professionals and non-professionals also contributes to carry out further training of volunteers who do not necessarily practice disaster relief in their profession.
Verification and validation can also help in providing support to those who are seeking to reconnect with their loved ones in crisis situations. While no concrete case prevailed for the Boston bombings, Humanity Road has a track record of helping individuals during disasters. For instance, in Hurricane Sandy, the team identified a group of people stranded due to rising waters in the Dominican Republic on 26th October, 2012. Notifying the Dominican Republic Navy Search and Rescue team, a rescue team was deployed to save over 80 people’s lives in the area. Another example of success story shows the leaders and volunteers of HR helped US-based family members reconnect with each other.
Christoph Dennenmoser, one of the team leader says, ‘The main difference to most of the other existing networks is the fact that Humanity Road is based on self directed work teams and is self activating. So if any volunteer in the world who went through the disaster desk training discovers an emerging disaster, the event can be brought to the disaster desk to be reviewed for activation.” Training the volunteers on how to verify information under critical conditions is one of the focuses of their work. And working with a worldwide network, disaster monitoring can be conducted 24/7. “As the sun sets in California and rises in India, it has become common for a Humanity Road volunteer in India to wish the Californian volunteers good night when starting his day“, says the team leader.
All situation reports are published and updated here.
Photo: Kate Ter Haar