Christchurch was hit by a devastating earthquake on February 22, 2011, that was much more destructive than the September 4 quake. The quake happened during the lunch hour and again surprised everybody. I had not heard about the earthquake until two hours later as I had been working in my hotel room and not watched TV or been online. Seeing the pictures later and listening to the reports on TV was horrific and I am grateful for everybody who is doing OK.
The state of emergency was declared very soon, the crisis centers started its work and volunteers got together to help in any way they could. One of these volunteer groups use eq.org.nz as their web site to gather information about the state of things à la “Where are you and what do you see?” It must be noted that this is not an official crisis center page, but crowd-gathered information. The volunteers are in touch with officials to check on certain messages before they get posted to the site.
Colleagues of mine who are in Wellington set up a volunteer training center in our training room at Catalyst to be able to provide the service continuously and have enough people at hand who can help sort the incoming messages. People can email or send a free TXT to contribute information. It then gets categorized and mapped for easy retrieval. As many people in Christchurch only have cell phone access, there is also a mobile interface and apps for both iPhone and Android phones available.
Although I still hope that such data gathering will not be necessary in the future, I am realistic to know that earthquakes or any other catastrophe can happen any minute. The web site that was set up using Ushahidi can be used for other disaster relief purposes in the future as the infrastructure has been set up. The technology used is open source. 🙂
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