This report was commissioned by the United States Institute of Peace’s Center of Innovation for Science, Technology, and Peacebuilding and Haiti Working Group. It examines the role of Ushahidi, a crisis-mapping platform, in the disaster relief effort following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Crowdsourcing Crisis Information in Disaster- Affected Haiti

Summary

  • On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. More than 230,000 people died, and some of Haiti’s most populous areas suffered mass destruction. The international community responded immediately to launch extensive search and rescue missions and provide emergency assistance.
  • The traditional disaster-response system employed by relief actors in Haiti concentrated on enabling information-sharing among teams of responders from the international community. This system lacked the ability to aggregate and prioritize data that came from outside sources, making it difficult to benefit from valuable information coming from the Haitian community.
  • Ushahidi, an open-source crisis-mapping software first developed and used in Kenya, provided a way to capture, organize, and share critical information coming directly from Haitians. Information was gathered through social media (e.g., blogs, Twitter, and Facebook) and text messages sent via mobile phones.
  • Reports about trapped persons, medical emergencies, and specific needs, such as food, water, and shelter, were received and plotted on maps that were updated in real time by an international group of volunteers.
  • These reports, and associated geographic information, were available to anyone with an Internet connection. Responders on the ground soon began to use them in determining how, when, and where to direct resources.
  • The most significant challenges arose in verifying and triaging the large volume of reports received. Ad hoc but sufficient solutions were found that involved the manual monitoring and sorting of information.

About the Report

This report was commissioned by the United States Institute of Peace’s Center of Innovation for Science, Technology, and Peacebuilding and Haiti Working Group. It examines the role of Ushahidi, a crisis-mapping platform, in the disaster relief effort following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Ushahidi provided the international community with access to actionable intelligence collected directly from the Haitian population via text messages and through social media sources, allowing responders to quickly and effectively target resources in the rapidly changing disaster environment. Jessica Heinzelman and Carol Waters are MA candidates at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. They are grateful to Patrick Meier, Jaroslav Valuch, and Nona Lambert for their comments.

Related Publications

Dialogue: Calming Hot Spots Calls for Structure and Skill

Dialogue: Calming Hot Spots Calls for Structure and Skill

Thursday, May 1, 2014

By: Maria Jessop; Alison Milofsky

Dialogue has been around as long as humans faced with a crisis have gathered in circles to talk. It is one of the oldest forms of conflict resolution and is still, when well-conceived and executed, one of the most effective. But the familiarity of dialogue can lead to oversimplification or to the perception that it is easier to do successfully than is actually the case.

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue; Education & Training

Haiti’s Election Conundrum: Fraught But Necessary?

Haiti’s Election Conundrum: Fraught But Necessary?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

By: Viola Gienger

USIP panelists say that, while elections may need to be held, as in the case of long-delayed senate and local elections, more effective pressure and support should be exerted to produce lasting, legitimate results.  

View All Publications