Crisis Camp: another face of humanitarian relief

This page in:

The room was deathly quiet apart from the tap-tap-tap of volunteers diligently clacking away at their keyboards. It could have been a library or students studying for exams but appearances are deceptive. It was a Crisis Camp—a gathering of volunteer tech heads who had pulled together for the weekend to build critical mapping data to help Pakistani flood victims.

Usually, when we think of humanitarian relief, images of food drops or internally displaced persons (IDP) camps first come to mind but there is a whole world of altruism that has emerged which is helping behind the scenes in times of crises. Detailed maps are critical to delivering humanitarian relief to the millions of Pakistanis that have been affected by flooding.

A Crisis Camp is a gathering of tech-savvy volunteers who aid in the relief efforts of major crises like earthquakes, floods, or hurricanes. Projects include: setting up social networks for people to locate missing friends and relatives, creating maps of affected areas so humanitarian supplies can be distributed according to needs, and creating inventories of urgently required provisions such as food and clothing.
The Pakistan Floods Crisis Camp was held in several locations simultaneously over the weekend: Sydney, Toronto, London Bangkok and Silicon Valley and brought together volunteers to help add much-needed data to the Ushahidi map. The camp brought together a diverse range of organizations including Crisis Commons, Mozilla Drumbeat, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Citibank, Open Street Map, just to mention a few. I visited the Sydney leg of the event, which was spear-headed by Mozilla Drumbeat, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE-UNSW) and Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (UNSW). Volunteers like Vicky, Shoaib, Khiem, Sandy, Tolmie and Martin guided the technical side of the camp.

The Ushahidi map the volunteers were working on is being used by relief agencies to respond to requests from flood-affected Pakistani people who SMS urgent needs, such as food items, shelter, tents and medicine. It is used to report damages to homes, infrastructure and other facilities. During the camp volunteers worked to ensure that towns and up-to-date imagery was added to the map. Other volunteers focused on filling holes in information that were not given when people sms-ed their needs.

One participant, a Pakistani student at UNSW, decided to volunteer as he wanted to help his country. His job was to look at incomplete sms messages that had come from flood affected Pakistanis requesting assistance and decipher where these had come from in order to plot the coordinates on the map, so assistance could get to them. As he tirelessly plugged in longitudes and latitudes, markers would appear on the Ushahidi map pointing out people’s needs.  These are then picked up by relief agencies who can deliver supplies to people who are in dire need. It is a case of everyday people doing heroic things.

You can find out more about what was achieved at the Sydney event here

What do a Bangkok office, banker, barista, bureaucrat and tech buffs have in common?

They all contributed their time, efforts and energy to come together to create the Bangkok leg of the Crisis Camp in no time at all.

A Crisis Camp is a new world to me as I am not a technical specialist whatsoever but the whole thing more or less runs on love. It is an exercise in good will and brings together people from all walks of life—pulled together like a virtual patchwork quilt for a common goal, in this case Pakistani flood victims and developing mapping data that ensures that much needed supplies will get to those who are in need.

Take the Crisis camp in Bangkok, which was organized in only a few days but gathered momentum so quickly it took on a life of its own. When we sent around an email asking if any organizations would be interested in donating office space for the Crisis Camp, we were inundated with offers. Those that couldn’t volunteer space offered other things. Citibank in Bangkok put their hand up to host the event. Coffee Works donated a coffee cart and barista. The technical community of Crisis Commons mobilised their people to tweet, blog and mentor the new comers. Others got the word out. Sara Farmer from England appeared virtually to help chaperone the event and show the ropes to the newbies. Finally and most importantly volunteers mobilized over the weekend to input critical mapping data to ensure that humanitarian agencies are able to accurately see where food, shelter and assistance needs to be directed and can deliver it. Michael from Sahana, a free and open source disaster management system, and Gordon helped coordinate people on the day.  Even a representative from the Pakistani Embassy in Bangkok popped down to see how things were going.

The global camps created a huge amount of data that could be used by humanitarian agencies to help deliver essential supplies to people affected by the floods in Pakistan.

It was quite amazing to see the whole thing unfold in an almost chaotic but completely successful fashion and restores your faith in humanity that such a strange conglomeration of people can pull together for the common good.


Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000