Mobile: In case of emergencies … Crisis management enabled through cellular phones

by mcampbell on May 18, 2012

Cell phones have somewhat spontaneously emerged as a major tool for crisis management following events such as extreme weather, natural disasters, sectarian violence, and government tyranny. Widespread access to cell phones, even in the developing world, coupled with their portability and system resilience allow unprecedented levels of communication to be maintained following a catastrophe. This is further enhanced by broadcast messaging, cameras, and web access which allow organizers and aid agencies to centralize information exchange and coordinate activities.

Ushahidi (roughly translated as ‘witness testimony’) came into existence as a method of resisting and cataloguing sectarian violence following the 2008 election in Kenya. It is based on the concept of crowdsourcing, where people with cellphones or computers can report and record incidents of violence as well as organize peace and humanitarian efforts. This information allows for crisis maps to be created and maintained.

The system works with email, text messages, twitter, and iphone or android apps. It has been successfully employed in many other instances, ranging from the 2010 blizzard in New York to the Japanese tsunami in 2011. Ushahidi’s software is both free and open source.

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