Technology in Disaster Response: ICT in Haiti and Beyond

On April 8th, Inveneo was pleased to host approximately 20 experts in technology and development for a Technology Salon held at mission*social, a collaborative workspace for social enterprises.

The event was billed as a conversation about the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the Haiti earthquake response, but the conversation focused on a wide range of opportunities and constraints facing the use of ICTs in responding to disasters, wherever they occur.

(We’re now bi-coastal! To join the next San Francisco Salon, get invited here.)

The event featured presentations from three ICT and medical professionals with direct experience leveraging ICTs to support disaster response followed by open and free-ranging discussion.

Download Mark’s presentation

Mark Summer of Inveneo

To kick us off, Mark Summer (CIO of Inveneo) presented on Inveneo’s WiFi networking efforts in post-quake Haiti working primarily with the NetHope alliance. This network provided broadband connectivity to NetHope member organizations – and a few others as well – in the crucial weeks following the quake, when local ISPs were not functioning effectively.

Mark emphasized the value of reliable, low-cost networking technologies, the need for better pre-planning and the importance of building local capacity.

Download Eric’s presentation

Eric Rasmussen of InSTEDD

Eric Rasumussen, CEO of InSTEDD, then described a wide range of initiatives in which he and his team were involved in Haiti, including work to facilitate and curate the flow of communications from victims and the public (much of it via SMS) and to feed this information back to first responders.

Eric focused on the importance of tight coordination among responding organizations, that these organizations must be self sufficient in the operating area, and the need for regulatory and policy reforms to enable.

Dr. Kumar Menon of Amrita University

Dr. Kumar, of Amrita University, joined via Skype from India to describe in brief his organization’s efforts to provide web-enabled critical care capacity in the wake of floods and the 2004 Tsunami. Dr. Kumar focused his comments on the need for reliable broadband connectivity in order to support medical aid via telemedicine during disasters.

There was good debate on several issues, but the following points got a lot of nods from participants:

  • There is a general need for more collaboration around an integrated framework for the use of multiple channels of information during disasters
  • Organizations involved in ICT response must be entirely self sufficient on the ground (bring 1khz Honda generators!!)
  • Development and effectiveness of systems will require a hospitable policy environment (e.g., free SMS during declared disasters, liberalize use of radio spectrum, etc.)
  • Better ICT pre-planning is needed (caches of networking equipment, sharing of information resources – ie, mapping data – within local setting, localized caching of Internet content, etc.)
  • There must be an appropriate balance between reliance on Internet/cloud and localized content/resources
  • Public education about use of alternative communications channels during an emergency will make response more effective

What other ICT lessons learned are there from Haiti?

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