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Better and faster humanitarian response

Better and faster humanitarian response

January 27 2016

By Jess Dillon

Last November social media updates during the terrible Paris attacks generated a Twitter ‘Moments’ page that quickly became an incredibly valuable resource. We’re informed in a way that has never before been possible, but actually responding to disasters, conflicts and disease outbreaks seems a huge, incomprehensible and complex task. We want to help, but we’re not sure how.

Unfortunately, natural and man-made disasters are part of the world we live in. According to WorldVision.org, 150 major natural disasters took place in 2015 alone. When we shortlisted our 2015 NT100 projects we came across a number of inspirational ventures that were applying technologies to create solutions and respond to emergency situations.

When a disaster unfurls, decision-makers need actionable data on where best to quickly and accurately deploy resources. HALO is a UAV drone program that deploys in disaster zones and pinpoints areas in need. Aid Maps was also developed to directly support field workers on the ground, through effective distribution of supplies and personnel. The initiative interactively tracks crisis magnitude and helps to coordinate individual agency responses.

Facebook’s Safety Check hit the news soon after the Paris attacks, and continues to offer quick safety updates in an emergency. The service has been proven time and again, including during floods, tsunamis and earthquakes. As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg stated, “It’s moments like this that being able to connect really matters.”

When searching for the 2015 NT100, we discovered other valuable projects that help keep people connected during times of upheaval. Pacifico provides disaster preparation solutions through mobile phone add-ons and specialised equipment. The project aims to ensure that connectivity remains in place, and clever tracking systems help rescuers find people amidst collapsed buildings and rubble. The Instant Network Mini is a phone network in a backpack, providing access to short messaging and potentially the Internet to people cut off from the rest of the world. With devices requiring power, the Solar Suitcase is a portable battery unit that runs tools and technology off-grid.

Maintaining health is also vital during a disaster, and in 2013 Oxfam’s SMS in Somalia initiative began to send out advice and redeemable vouchers for essential supplies to mobile phones throughout the fragile state. The project was a response to Somalia’s Polio epidemic and was measured to have direct positive effect on an incredible 90,000 text message recipients.

A documentary on war-torn Syria motivated a Loughborough University student, James Roberts, to develop MOM, a cheap and portable incubator for babies born in conflict zones and refugee camps. The collapsible unit can run on very little power, providing the vital incubation newborn babies need when they are at their most vulnerable. 

Closer to home, 5,000 responders (with more joining everyday) are enrolled in a London-based program called GoodSAM. These are smartphone app users ready to be alerted and react to emergencies close by, both medical personnel and those with basic but essential training alike.

We’ve also chosen a few crowdsourcing models to be included in the NT100, which help to mobilise those who can help in times of disaster. MicroMappers uses drones, sending the imagery produced on site to an international volunteer-led system. After the Nepal earthquake, 2,100 digital humanitarians logged into the service to plot areas of damage by updating maps and delivering results to relief agency workers.

Tomnod is another volunteer community that analyses satellite imagery to flag damaged infrastructure and search out wreckage. During the recent West Africa Ebola Epidemic, the crowd responded to a call to action by successfully and quickly mapping out infrastructure networks for Médecins Sans Frontière by building OpenStreetMap software.

All these projects show us how imagination, skills and technology can provide life-saving solutions for those in need of immediate help. We’re proud to highlight them in the 2015 NT100, and urge you to find out more about them.

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