Crisis mapping is an extremely new field. It is definitely not an exact science, and we learned that we needed to be extremely flexible with our crisis response plan. While we learned many things in class, it was obvious to us that no amount of information can prepare us for how crisis mapping functions in the field. As the Moroccan Red Crescent our original program was providing water and sanitation to Rabat and the surrounding areas immediately following the earthquake. We decided to provide these services while at the same time starting an education program to inform people about clean water and sanitation practices to make our efforts sustainable. The addition of new technology will not drastically change our initial approach to the crisis, but it will change the way we carry out those plans.
One of the first things we learned was the importance of cooperating with other groups. We worked with the World Food Program to start a work for food program (where they worked for our programs and in return were helped by the World Food Program), and in general it was very important to understand the role of our NGO in the scheme of the crisis response. We also learned in our group and especially in the FieldEx exercise that we must understand that the people reporting data are real people on the ground in the crisis not just data reporters, and that we should not take them for granted. Also, not everything will go well – technology is not perfect, people will not always give us accurate information, and it can be extremely challenging to collect and interpret data efficiently and accurately.
From these lessons that we learned there are several changes that we would make to our original plans. We would definitely want to have a plan and organizational structure in place before the crisis occurred (although this cannot always be guaranteed). We decided to incorporate FrontlineSMS into our plan, resulting in this workflow:
* SMS program (advertised through blogs, radio, loudspeakers, pamphlets, etc.)
o We will interpret and process SMS data with FrontlineSMS (provided that it works for us), and will use publicized categories as outlined below and also in our previous blog post.
o We will additionally use FrontlineSMS to communicate with our volunteers, also outlined below and in our last blog post.
* We will then export it to Ushahidi, if we possess the server capacity to utilize this program.
o While we wait for Ushahidi to set up we can use Crowdmap if necessary, but we must be careful not to map sensitive information.
This process will facilitate a smooth transition of data from the ground to those processing data, and from the data processors to Crowdmap/Ushahidi and also back to our volunteers on the ground. This circular flow of data proved beneficial during our FieldEx simulation, and we believe that this flow is vital in the urgent manner of crises.
Incorporating these new technologies has many potential benefits. We will be very easily able to visualize and chart our process, which will allow us to see what work we still need to do, and we will be able to work much more fluidly. However, because it is impossible to guarantee that software would work (as seen in our FieldEx exercise with Crowdmap AND FrontlineSMS). A breakdown of one of these systems could have catastrophic consequences to the rest of our program.
We added FrontlineSMS to our plan because it has the potential to be an extremely valuable technology. We plan to have a number system, since keywords can be confusing, spelled incorrectly, or misinterpreted. Different numbers would identify a different need or problem, and then people would be instructed to describe their location to the best of their abilities. This would make the process of sorting through data much simpler – it would already be sorted by need on FrontlineSMS, and then volunteers would identify and map the locations. Uploading the data to Crowdmap/Ushahidi would help us identify trends in kind of need or amount of need in certain areas. We could also use it to communicate with our population by sending messages about services available (such as food, water, medicine) and releasing other important updates about the crisis to the general population. The messages must have very specific composition (so as not to upset people or be ambiguous) and it should be very clear that people should not reply to the messages unless they are reporting need, so that our system doesn’t get backed up.
An additional benefit FrontlineSMS offers is that people we are unable to have physical contact with, but who have cell phones, can receive information from us. We can use FrontlineSMS is to manage and communicate with our volunteers in the field. Volunteers could report on supplies remaining, sanitation problems, and any other important information. This would greatly improve our communication and information exchange within branches of our organization, making our process of gathering and interpreting information from the field less complicated (providing this technology functions).
We would like to incorporate the use of Ushahidi into our plan. Crowdmap allowed us to create very easy to identify categories and we could connect aid available with aid needed. However, the Crowdmap platform may not be able to handle the volume of information and traffic to the website. Because of this, we may wish to use Ushahidi as an individual server will keep information private until we wish to release a map to the public.
Using and understanding these new technologies will allow us to more accurately determine the specific needs of the population that we are serving. We can better streamline how our system works (for example incorporating the same categories into our map that we use with FrontlineSMS) and this will make our program as a whole run more efficiently. Since we are based on the ground in Rabat and functioning in an extremely high paced stressful environment, having a streamlined system in place which we know how to use and how it functions will reduce the time spent on processing data and make our response to the crisis as a whole more effective.