Haiti: Technology in a Time of Crisis

From Flickr user Allen Harper (Creative Commons)

By Scott Stadum.

Over the past week I’ve been keeping track of the technological and web-based aid initiatives related to the Haiti recovery. A number of groups—some previously related, some disparate—have quickly come together to leverage their skills, technologies and communities in this time of crisis. I want to highlight a number of these projects to give you an idea of what is happening in this sector.


The Drawing Together campaign, including OpenStreetMap, the International Community of Crisis Mappers, Crisis Commons, Ushahidi and others, are working together to map the crisis and share the information with people working on the ground.

Finding People

Google has created a people finder tool using Google AppEngine, which you can access here. Google is encouraging other people finder tools to contribute their data to the project and are making all the data publicly available. Google and Skype are also offering free VOIP calls to Haiti.

Interactive Tools

The Google Earth Blog has highlighted a number of interactive tools you can use now, like the New York Times tool showing some of the hardest hit locations in Haiti, and Microsoft’s Photosynth tool mapping damaged areas in Port-au-Prince.

Building Tools

Last weekend the Sunlight Foundation held a hackathon, bringing “together specialists in database creation, visualization, geospatial data and other fields in order to build reliable tools that field workers and other volunteers will be able to use on laptops and mobile devices.”

Sorting the Missing

The Extraordinaries are using microvolunteering opportunities to sort and tag disaster images and to submit, sort and tag images of missing persons.

Bridging Technology

Telecoms Sans Frontieres, MapAction, InSTEDD and others have people on the ground bridging technology like mobile telecom rigs and satellite phones with information and virtual volunteer initiatives.


HaitiVolunteer.org is working diligently to aggregate volunteer opportunities and volunteer information. You can also check out what InterAction partners are needing and and related volunteer information at Tonic.com.

If you know of other projects, please leave a comment below.

Previous Haiti-related posts:

Helping Haiti: Things to Consider

Haiti Earthquake Response

[This blog entry first appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Helping Haiti: Things to Consider

This post has three sections: Donations; Volunteering Locally to Support Efforts in Haiti; and Volunteering in Haiti. Idealist staff Jeremy MacKechnie, Amy Potthast, Erin Barnhart, Eric Fichtl, Scott Stadum, and Julia Smith contributed.

The outpouring of support for the victims of Tuesday’s natural disaster in Haiti has been overwhelming. As we look for ways to help, there are a few things to keep in mind.


From news reports and our organizational contacts, it seems the logistics of sending aid and support to Haiti is compromised by electrical outages, gas shortages, and destroyed roads. Most organizations have sent small teams of staff and are assessing needs on-the-ground at this point.

As our Director of Volunteerism Initiatives, Erin Barnhart, wrote on YP Nation yesterday: While many are willing and able to volunteer today—ready to hop on a plane to Port-au-Prince and lend a hand however they are needed—the reality is there may not yet be appropriate ways for most people to pitch in, especially in the days immediately following a disaster of this magnitude.

Thus, the fastest and most efficient way to assist disaster victims at this time is to donate money to a reputable charity that is responding to the disaster. Many charities like the Red Cross/Red Crescent, Mercy Corps, and Oxfam specialize in providing relief in acute disaster areas, yet they face significant financial barriers to getting their staff, equipment, and supplies to the affected regions. Other organizations like Partners in Health, UNICEF, and the Grameen Foundation have a long history in Haiti and are positioned to make a huge impact in the aftermath of this week’s disaster. Find other organizations supporting Haiti relief efforts on CNN.com or at Network for Good.

Your donation, no matter how small, helps put experienced disaster responders on the ground, and gives them the tools they need to help victims recover. Be sure that you are taking precautions to donate to a reputable organization. You may want to review this article on internet scams that have arisen surrounding the tragedy in Haiti.

Note that organizations are asking for financial donations—not supplies—because they prefer to purchase exactly what they need from secure supply chains, using delivery means that can ensure the safety of the shipment. Where possible, purchasing materials available locally is also a boon to the local economy in the wake of a natural disaster. Read more about why cash donations are preferred.

Some organizations have organized text messaging donation drives: you can text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross; text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele; or text “HAITI” to 25383 to donate $5 to the International Rescue Committee. Organizations should send you a text to confirm that you want to donate, and if you accept, the amount will appear on your next cell phone bill — which you can use as your receipt for tax purposes. These have been very popular and successful; however, it is worth considering that the money may take up to 90 days to reach the people and efforts on the ground, as there are processed through the cell phone company and possibly other parties. Read more here.

Volunteering Locally to Support Efforts in Haiti

If you are not in a financial position to donate, you can still help the relief effort in a variety of ways, often right in your own community. Most organizations don’t want to receive supplies such as clothing, but you can post a donation banner for an organization you support on your blog or website, volunteer at the local office of a charity that has sent staff to the affected area, or organize initiatives in your community that raise awareness about, and funding for, the relief effort.

Such efforts shouldn’t be downplayed: raising money, spreading awareness, or lobbying community leaders to support the relief effort can all generate tangible results for disaster victims. Check out our section on DIY volunteering for tips on how to create your own volunteer project, or visit Idealist in NYC for a list of drives and events being organized in New York City.

Volunteering in Haiti

If you are mainly interested in volunteering on the ground in Haiti right now:

  • Please be patient. Volunteer managers are likely overwhelmed by the outpouring of goodwill and may be unprepared to receive the numbers of people stepping forward to help out. It will take a long time for Haiti to dig out from this disaster, and the long-term volunteering needs will become more apparent as the months (and years) pass. We recommend that you continue to check Idealist.org over the coming weeks and months for these kinds of opportunities. You can search for volunteer opportunities on the site by clicking on Find Volunteer Opportunities, and/or read more about Disaster Relief Volunteering.
  • [UPDATE] As far as we know, Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders are faced with long waiting lists of physicians who want to travel to Haiti. They ask that you please consider a monetary donation for now instead.
  • Volunteers with “needed skills” can also register for possible volunteer positions at the Center for International Disaster Information’s registration page.

[This blog entry first appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Haiti Earthquake Response

By Eric Fichtl.

On Tuesday, Haiti was struck by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake and dozens of aftershocks. Initial reports indicate widespread destruction, with high casualties expected. Many survivors require immediate assistance with shelter, food, water, and medical attention.

The Caribbean country, sharing an island with the Dominican Republic, is already chronically impoverished and many of its people depend on foreign aid. In the aftermath of the disaster, the situation will grow more desperate.

Aid agencies, governments, and people around the world are mounting a rapid response. Here are a few ways to contribute to it:

Donate to relief efforts


Further details

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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A Little Bit More: Disaster and Emergency Relief

Natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies tend to inspire an outpouring of relief efforts; we see evidence of this in the number of people who browse Idealist for volunteer opportunities in an affected region immediately following a disaster. And, of course, through the organizing efforts of The Red Cross, Oxfam, and other disaster relief agencies, we see opportunities for individuals to contribute in other ways – small donations of money, food, clothing, or blood add up to the critical support these organizations need to do the life-saving work they do.

For this edition of “A Little Bit More” we want to call attention to the small ways you can help:

  • Stay up to date on emergencies, disasters, and funding appeals on ReliefWeb. Sign up for daily or weekly email updates, or subscribe with an RSS reader.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross is another extensive resource for the latest news on victims of war and other violence.
  • Donate blood. Find a blood drive (United States only).
  • Donate your spare change to the American Red Cross through a Coinstar machine.
  • Register to help in a disaster. Sign up on HelpinDisaster.org, list your skills and availability, and you’ll be contacted if you’re needed.
  • Join Oxfam America’s Humanitarian Action Team and help influence United States legislation on humanitarian issues such as the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the earthquake in China, and the global food crisis.


Previous entries in our A Little Bit More series:

March 17: Open Up Your Home

March 10: Exchange Services Through Time Banking

February 27: Donate Your Birthday

February 23: Support the Arts During the Economic Downturn

February 19: Use the Internet to Stretch Your Organization’s Dollar

February 17: Asking One Another: What Can We Do Now?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]