The Technologies Used by Standby Task Force Volunteers

The Standby Volunteer Task Force comprises a network of skilled and dedicated volunteers from the world over. We use multiple technologies to manage live mapping operations. These include Ning, Skype, email, Google Groups, Google Docs, cell phones, Ushahidi, OpenStreetMap, ArcGIS, Google Maps, Google Earth, Access, Excel, SatScan, DropBox, YouSendIt, Doodle and Wordl. Since we use so many technologies, we figured we’d simply use the title “Standby Volunteer Task Force” rather than the U-O-A-G-G-A-E-S-D-Y-D-W Standby Volunteer Task Force.

But in all seriousness, the original impetus for the launch of the Task Force was twofold: (1) volunteers who had helped out in crisis mapping Haiti, came back to help with Chile and Pakistan; so we wanted to connect these skilled volunteers and streamline the process of live crisis mapping to make it easier for newcomers to join; (2) the humanitarian community was asking for a defined, predictable and reliable interface to interact with the growing network of crisis mappers who were repeatedly engaged in rapid, live crisis mapping efforts.

When we launched the Task Force at the 2010 Crisis Mapping Conference, we offered to develop a model (i.e., processes, workflows, protocols, best practices, etc) for live crisis mapping that other communities could benefit from. In other words, our focus with the Task Force was first on people, then process and then technology. That is why we focused on recruiting volunteers and developing the processes necessary to deploy live crisis mapping operations. These processes comprise our activation protocols, workflows and modular team structures. We decided to apply these processes to the Ushahidi platform first since that’s what all original volunteers had direct experience in using, and what we as co-founders were most experienced in.

But the point of the Task Force was never (and still isn’t) to focus on one mapping technology over an other. The point is to connect volunteers and establish working processes for live mapping. Indeed, 80% of the processes that Task Force volunteers work with are platform independent–they are core, common information management processes, hence our modular and flexible team structure. That is why 8 of our 10 Standby Task Force Teams have nothing to do with the Ushahidi platform.

The remaining 20% of our processes are dependent on whether the mapping technology used is OpenStreetMap, Sahana, Ushahidi, etc. Only 2 of the 10 Task Force teams focus on processes directly related to the underlying mapping technology. We have partnered with OSM, Sahana and others and invited them to train Task Force volunteers on their 20% so that the Task Force can accomplish the goal it set out in October 2010, to train a network of volunteers skilled in multiple mapping platforms and technologies.

One thought on “The Technologies Used by Standby Task Force Volunteers

  1. Adding one more organization that needs recognition here: Microsoft.

    Microsoft research (MSR) have been leading the way in looking at methods for quickly deploying machine-translation services for low resource languages, especially in the context of sudden onset crises. They released the first Kreyol-English translation system (via Bing translate) and a large number of machine-translation researchers and practitioners are also working on this problem. More on this in a dedicated blog post soon!

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