Exactly one year after the earthquake that left 230,000 of Haiti’s population dead and millions more homeless, researchers are analyzing the effectiveness of various social media tools deployed in the disaster’s aftermath.
Twitter, text messaging, interactive online maps, and crowdsourcing, were all used during the devastation but to what effect?
In a study released by the Knight Foundation, researchers found that social media tools can make rescue efforts and aid faster and easier but in Haiti’s case could have been used more effectively.
According to the report, relief efforts were focused on technology and social media, describing Haiti as “a living laboratory for new applications such as SMS, interactive online maps and radio-cell phone hybrids.”
One such example is Ushahidi, a Kenyan developed service to aggregate and process information from a variety of sources like SMS, Twitter and the radio on an online map.
The service “developed an RSS feed for the U.S. Coast Guard to help them retrieve emergency information [and] a team of four to eight Coast Guard responders retrieved the information and disseminated it to forces on the ground.”
Another example of a crowdsourcing application was CrowdFlower, a service that managed volunteers by translating, classifying, and geocoding the short-code 4636 messages going back and forth across the country. Results were viewed in an OpenStreetMap standard that pinpointed both survivors and victims on an interactive map.
“One of the biggest problems of crisis response in developing countries lies in finding locations that do not appear on any maps. In some cases, the maps have never been made; in others, rural populations have crowded into urban areas so quickly that maps soon become outdated. These problems were addressed in Haiti by another notable development in information technology: the OpenStreetMap (OSM) Haiti mapping initiative.”
One interesting find from the report was that radio continued to be the most important networking tool between survivors and help.
What the report really highlighted was the effectiveness of the newer social media tools when used effectively.
On the other hand, the report notes that if the Haitian government would have implemented these tools nationwide, across agencies, their effect would have better. With better coordination, perhaps these tools could have helped saved lives and speed up relief efforts.
Using Haiti as an example, technologists are highlighting ways to deploy such tools more effectively in other countries to help mitigate future catastrophes.