IT, Crisis Experts Come Together To Improve Disaster Response

September 26, 2010

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2010 – The World Bank Group today is hosting a group of volunteer disaster experts and programmers to create new tools for people in times and places of crisis, including the recent floods that have devastated Pakistan.

The World Bank Group’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Labs has partnered with Crisis Commons to host the Washington Crisis Camp, part of a Crisis Camp Day, which includes events in London, Bogota, Toronto, Calgary, Silicon Valley, and online. Crisis Camps are a grass-roots movement of developers and disaster and crisis experts that provide solutions to communications on the ground in disaster-stricken areas.

“The idea behind the Crisis Camps came out of the desire of people to do more than send money,” said Heather Blanchard, Crisis Commons Founder. “These camps bring communities together, both locally and virtually, to use their skills to solve specific problems in aid relief, create and support technology tools and provide volunteer surge capacity for existing collaborative projects such Ushahidi, OpenStreetMap and Sahana Disaster Management System which help aid workers more systematically track relief efforts and provide enhanced situational awareness.”

One of the challenges the volunteers will take on are real-time problems from the Pakistan flood relief effort and to build on previous camps devoted to Pakistan. World Bank disaster experts currently assessing the damage and reconstruction needs in Pakistan provided insight on the real-time problems they are seeing for the Crisis Campers to work through. To help the country recover, the World Bank Group has also provided rescue boats and will reallocate one billion dollars of no-interest finance for flood recovery and reconstruction.

In the aftermath of the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, Crisis Camp partners helped speed the analysis of aerial photographs and, as a result, the shift to the heavy task of reconstruction.

"Volunteer Technical Communities like these present a fundamental shift in how we design and use technology to further disaster prevention and preparedness in disaster-prone countries," said Saroj Jha, head of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. "We are only at the beginning of this story, but given that the learning from communities like Crisis Commons has been implemented in Haiti and Chile, it holds great promise for the future. It is exciting to see the Bank play a leadership role in these emerging communities."

“It’s impossible to predict what the volunteers will come up with," Blanchard said, "but we know that a similar group generated the open-source mobile phone application called ‘I’m OK’ which we used in Haiti during the aftershocks to send an ‘I’m OK’ signal to our team. It’s a free, open-source application that anyone can download and use in case of emergency. To us, that's the ultimate public good."

Volunteers can participate virtually or at the CrisisCamp event by registering online.

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