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Tech Volunteers Build New Tools to Aid Haiti Relief Efforts
Written by Daniel   
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 19:04

From Technology News

Techies are gathering in person and online to collaborate on the development of new systems to support rescuers and relief workers on the ground in Haiti, and to provide victims with ways to communicate their needs and connect with one another. Among the projects: new maps of the disaster areas, a central missing persons finder, a text-messaging system for calls for help.

Hundreds of tech volunteers spurred to action by Haiti's killer quake are adding a new dimension to disaster relief, developing new tools and services for first responders and the public in an unprecedented effort.

"It really is amazing the change in the way crisis response can be done now," said Noel Dickover, a Washington, D.C.-based organizer of the CrisisCamp tech volunteer movement, which is central to the Haiti effort. "Developers, crisis mappers and even Internet-savvy folks can actually make a difference."

UCSD programmer Tim Schwartz
Tim Schwartz, a programmer at the University of California-San Diego, helped develop a database for persons missing in the Haiti earthquake.

Volunteers have built and refined software for tracking missing people, mapping the disaster area and enabling urgent cellphone text-messaging. Organizations including the International Red Cross, the United Nations, the World Bank and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency have put the systems to use.

Tim Schwartz, a 28-year-old artist and programmer in San Diego, feared upon learning of the disaster that, with an array of social-networking sites active, crucial information about Haitian quake victims would "go everywhere on the Internet and it would be very hard to actually find people -- and get back to their loved ones," he said. So Schwartz quickly emailed "all the developers I'd ever worked with."

In a few hours, he and 10 others had built, an online lost-and-found to help Haitians in and out of the country locate missing relatives.

The database, which anyone can update, was online less than 24 hours after the quake struck with more than 6,000 entries, because Schwartz and his colleagues wrote an "scraper" that gathered data from a Red Cross site.   [More...] [Comments....]



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