When tragedy struck in Haiti last week, the folks at Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, leapt into action. By Tuesday evening, they were hard at work, collecting and mapping eyewitness reports from the area devastated by a catastrophic earthquake.
A story in today's Washington Post highlights their work:
The site is www.Ushahidi.com, and it allows users to submit eyewitness accounts or other relevant information for disaster zones via e-mail, text or Twitter -- and then visualize the frequency of these events on a map. By Friday, Ushahidi, which means "testimony" in Swahili, had received nearly 33,000 unique visitors, and several hundred personal reports that mainstream news organizations might not hear about. [...]
Taken individually, these bits of data might not be terribly useful. The goal is that by aggregating the incidents in a visual format, people and organizations using the site will be able to see patterns of destruction, to determine where services should be concentrated. A red dot on the map, for example, signifies that looting is happening near a town called P'tionville; another shows that Hotel Villa Creole has become a site of medical triage.
On the Ushahidi blog, founder Ory Okolloh and director of strategic operations Patrick Meier have been sharing insights on the organzation's response to the crisis and how it will develop over the coming days. Okolloh writes:
Since the site went live, the team has been working round the clock to make improvements to the instance, fix problems (our server has crashed several times already and our alert system went beserk!), coordinate efforts with volunteers, share information with partners, and collaborate with other tech-based efforts e.g. the people finder at Haitianquake (since merged with Google's). The fact that we have a global team means that we have been able to offer round the clock support, with the Africa-based team taking over when the US-based team goes to sleep and vice versa.