It's been just a few hours since one of the largest recorded earthquakes and subsequent tsunami hit off the coast of Japan. The photos and video coming out of the region are awe inspiring and scary. Our hearts go out to the people of Japan.
Fortunately, the quick response to the quake, especially in the realm of technology, has been equally impressive.
Just a few short years ago, technology in disaster response was a different animal all together. Satellite phones and GPS were the major tools that helped relief workers work faster and stay connected. In 2005, that changed: when Hurricane Katrina hit, technology for disaster response made the leap from field workers to those affected.
With the social web just about to bloom, dozens of media outlets, from MSNBC to Craigslist put up places for people to post their whereabouts and for concerned friends and families to try to locate their loved ones. It was amazing, and also amazingly confusing. With dozens of sites to search through, the odds of actually connecting with someone were tough. Within a week came the Katrina People Finder, aggregating data into one central location. After that came online databases of relief supplies that helped ensure that the right supplies got to the right people.
Two revolutions happened then:
- We were able to scale an organized solution that allowed disaster victims and their families to play an important role in the recovery process, rather than passively waiting for help.
- Data emerged as the most important asset to any disaster response. If a group of volunteers could organize an ad-hoc database of survivors in under a week, then surely the disaster response community could set up systems to share data about their work to make collaboration more prolific and decrease duplication of efforts.
We've seen immense progress, fueled by nonprofits and technology, in the six years since Katrina. Just last year, the Red Cross hosted a summit on emergency social data to explore how aid agencies might use social and mobile tools to better share data. Geolocation tools like Ushahidi and data collaboration tools like Sahana were used in Haiti to help responders.
So far today, we've seen Google's Crisis Response page. Network for Good has begun directing visitors to support responders, as well. Amidst the tragedy, we're looking forward to the stories of the lives that will be helped and saved because of the work you do in this sector.
Update: Our friends at Causes have also pulled together quickly. They've got a new cause set up with a goal of raising $50,000.