Relief comes in code form for victims of Haiti earthquake

Paul Goodman decided to spend his Saturday helping the relief effort in Haiti – by donating his time and expertise to developing mapping software for relief agencies.

As the International Red Cross and other organizations have begun to offer help to victims of the earthquake in Haiti, a group of more than 130 programmers in Washington D.C. were working on their own form of relief – and it comes in code form.

Dave Mroz (sitting) and Michael Mendelson work on an English/Creole translation program.: By Andy Medici

Programmers, engineers and self-described hackers from a variety of organizations have donated their time and expertise to creating programs and applications to help with relief efforts and in locating survivors.

The first “Crisis Camp” happened last June, when technology companies such as Google and Microsoft teamed up with international organizations to help bridge the divide between first response organizations and the information technology community.

But with the crisis in Haiti, what had begun as a way to bring organizations together has instead become a new form of assistance – engineers and coders creating applications and software for use by organizations in the field.

Noel Dickover, an organizer for Crisis Camp and a computer consultant, said that even though they were not on the ground in Haiti, the engineers and programmers were working on applications and programs that could help save lives.

“We are not mixing concrete, we are not delivering water, but three and four and five weeks later there is still going to be a massive crisis.” There we can start offering coded maps to stick their data online,” Dickover said. “If you look around they are not talking, there is work happening, and the goal is to see how we can save lives,”

He said that as more organizations move in, they will be able to take advantage of the combined resources and information the programmers helped create.

“Here is the places where water delivery is taking place, here is where roads are up, here are where funerary services are located,” Dickover said.

The projects range from mapping software that allows relief agencies to share information and find important areas to a program to help people locate family members displaced by the earthquake.

“Its citizen engagement, it’s a change. Before, all you can really do is send money to the Red Cross. What we’re saying is, from your living room, you can actually help people and prevent them from dying,” Dickover said.

“There is a different way of helping in a crisis than there ever was,” Dickover said.

Jaakko Helleranta works on the front page for the applications.

Jaakko Helleranta works on the front page of the applications.

Scott Stead works on the crisis wiki.