Video: The Standby Task Force in Action

I was recently invited to give a 5-minute talk on the SBTF in action. This was for the Frontiers in Development conference organized by USAID just a few weeks ago. They have just made the video public. In this presentation, I describe the SBTF’s recent projects in Libya and Somalia, and with USAID’s Credit Authority Program. Huge, huge thanks to all Mapsters (SBTF volunteers) who made these three groundbreaking projects possible!

WHO Libya Deployment: Lessons Learned and SBTF Feedback

On December 12th, 2011, Robert Colombo Llimona, a GIS Analyst
for the Vulnerability and Risk Analysis & Mapping (VRAM) 
inside the WHO Mediterranean Center for Health Risk Reduction (WMC) based in Tunisia contacted the SBTF, OSM and GISCorps to request support on a project related to the public health system in Libya. The purpose of the project was to get a final Health Facility Registry GIS layer for Libya, which would include the location type and name of the Health Facilities (HF) across the country along with their status. This was to be the starting point for providing a crucial service to the local community since the public health infrastructure was starting to get back “online” as it’s capacity was starting to increase again, which would benefit the entire community and citizens.

WHO was looking for datasets to try to compile a basic layer to start working with. Once this basic layer (which included the HF’s that were in place before the revolution and fighting) was going to be compiled, WHO could properly start their assessment of the actual public health situation in the field and identify which HF’s were still operational, which ones weren’t, and in doing so collect the statistical data to create a strategy of fast recovery for the national health system

There were already some datasets to start from:

•  Google map maker
•  WHO

Still there were some gaps in the layers and there was a need to identify and complete them.

WHO had two WHO staff already in Libya working on this specific project (collecting data, points, visiting places…) but they needed to be more precise in their approach, which is why they wanted to make sure we could gather all the existing, valid and original datasets.

The SBTF decided to start immediately a deployment and the following things where set up:

1) An application form for the volunteers to declare their availability

2) A Google spreadsheet with all the data already existing, possible sources and new sources founded by the volunteers

3) An endline survey for the volunteer to be checked on a daily bases and used to eventually change workflows and methodology according to the feedback gathered from the volunteers

The volunteers were coordinating all their efforts using a dedicated Skype Chat (standard operating procedure for SBTF deployments), and both the Skype Chat and the Application Form were shared with OSM in order not to duplicate efforts.

All the documentation necessary to inform volunteers on how to contribute to the effort was drafted and shared via the WHO Deployment Page created inside the SBTF Ning site:

The deployment run through the entire holiday period (December-January) and was paused for a couple of days to allow GIS Corps to clean and delete duplicate data  from the information found by the volunteers after the first 2 weeks of the deployment.

At the end of the deployment, when it was clear that no more information could be found on the web, the SBTF phased out of the deployment, giving way to the the second phase of the project: HOT/OSM created a web interface to allow anyone from Libya to add information missing on the health facilities founded by the volunteers, or to add new facilities not already inserted.

Of course this part of the project was particularly difficult because, as our collecgues in OSM state in their blog post on this project “We did have good contact with a number of interested Libyans, especially expat medical professionals. I think the call to participate must have gotten into the right channels. However, it was difficult to bring these folks in … being medical professionals, they’re really busy, mostly not in the same cities as us in the response, and not that familiar with mapping. They were super enthusiastic about the project, and for that I totally appreciate, and hope we can find a way to collaborate more as things develop.”

WHO has already described this project in detail in their guest  blog post here, so I will use this post to describe a bit more the SBTF’s involvement in this project and will share the comments, feedback, opinions of volunteers who participated in this novel public health deployment.

Overall the SBTF had 76 volunteers participating in the deployment, 12 of them from the OSM team, and most of those part of both SBTF and OSM networks.

The average amount of time spent daily by each SBTF volunteer on the deployment was 75 minutes, with some volunteers working 3 hours in a row and some no more than 10 minutes. In general the majority of the volunteers did around 1 hour a day.

The major problem that volunteers highlighted was related to the different spellings of the local locations and the difficulties in finding addresses on any available maps on line. This was frustrating and time consuming for volunteers – and gave our colleagues at GISCorps a lot of work vis-a-vis the data cleaning operation after the first two weeks of the deployment.

Thanks to the feedback and suggestions provided by SBTF volunteers, we were able to adapt and make changes to the deployment several times throughout the project life cycle. For example, we added a column for the phone numbers of individual facilities, another one for the web address, and another one with the status of that entry. We also added a dedicated page to compile all the useful sources found by the volunteers. This enabled others to do some cross-validation and verification.

Almost 90% of volunteers found the Skype Chat useful and a good way to ask questions, share information and learn about what others were doing and how. Some volunteers emphasized that they found the Skype Chat particularly important for the “spirit”. Being able to chat with each other while working was a definite plus and a form of ongoing encouragement.  The majority of the volunteers used the chat to get quick feedback on their questions and to get up to speed of what was most needed. Unfortunately, since the majority of the volunteers were based in the US, whom was in a different time zone, was left almost alone in the Skype Chat.

Lessons Learned:

  • The SBTF should have more coordinators in different time zones to make sure that all volunteers have a reference point;
  • The use of local volunteers needs to be increased at the earlier stages of the deployment if and where possible;
  • When working with local languages spelling issues and transliteration problems really do handicap the efforts of the volunteers to find accurate information. Guides or standard protocols needs to be created to minimize those risks;
  • Endline survey needs to become a standard protocol to make sure that all volunteers can anonymously report issues and problems on a daily bases and that the managers of the deployment gather feedbacks in a timely manner;
  • Having the activators in the skype chat with the volunteers was incredibly useful. Robert Colombo was supporting and coordinating the volunteers on a daily bases and this gave them also a very good understanding of the use of the data collected.

Double Activation of the Standby Task Force: WHO-Libya & OCHA-Colombia

The Standby Volunteer Task Force has just been activated by two major partners: the World Health Organization (WHO) in Libya and the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Colombia.

WHO-Libya: This activation is not in response to an acute emergency but rather related to preparedness and health system status in Libya. The goal of the project is to get a final Health Facility Registry GIS layer for Libya with the location type and name of the Health Centers across the country along with their status. This is an important step towards providing local communities with the crucial public health services they require.

To this end, our colleagues at WHO have been trying to compile a basic data layer of health facilities. This layer will include health facilities that were in place before the revolution. Once complete, WHO will use this data layer to carry out an assessment of the actual situation in the field to identify which health facilities are still operational and which ones aren’t. They plan to collect sufficient data to develop an appropriate strategy for rapid recovery of Libya’s public health system.

WHO has thus asked the SBTF and HOT/OSM to help them identify relevant information to create this basic data layer of health facilities. The deployment of the SBTF will continue through to January 15th, 2012. For this deployment the SBTF teams activated are the Task Team and the Geo-Location Team, but all volunteers are encouraged to participate. The work consists in doing web-based research, which means that SBTF volunteers need not have prior crisis mapping experience.

OCHA-Colombia: This activation is specifically for Spanish-speaking volunteers of the SBTF. The purpose is to support the UN’s efforts in mapping the impact of the floods and resulting needs. This information will be shared by other UN partners, various local and international NGOs and a number of government entities. The resulting information will constitute an important input for the decision-making process and for undertaking specific actions to support disaster-affected communities. Note that OCHA-Colombia will be managing this deployment and providing the necessary training.

This double-activation of the SBTF is a first for us, not to mention just days before the holiday period for many of our volunteers. As with other deployments, we’ll do our best to support our humanitarian partners and will take this as an opportunity to learn and improve our workflows. For a list of previous SBTF deployments, please see this link. To join the SBTF, simply follow this link.


SBTF Recognized in Online Volunteer Award for 2011!

The entire SBTF membership is truly honored and proud to be recognized in this year’s International Online Volunteer Award! The official press release is available online here, which includes this video describing the SBTF’s work on the Libya Crisis Map. Sincere thanks to Andrej Verity for his comments in the video below.


Responding to Crisis Online from UNV on Vimeo.


When we started the year we were just starting to refine our workflows and standard operating procedures. We had fewer than 100 volunteers on the team. With this Online Volunteer Award, we end the year with over 700 volunteers and a lot more experience. We still have some work to do to improve our workflows but we are light years further than when we were just 12 short months ago.

This is a testament to the hard work and considerable time that our absolutely amazing SBTF Coordinators have placed into this unique global volunteer network. A very big thanks to them and every Mapster who volunteered their time during the Libya Crisis Map deployment!



Libya Crisis Map Deployment 2011 Report

We have just completed the after action review of the SBTF deployment of the Libya Crisis Map. You can view the report here. The entire point of this report is to catalyze conversation and learning. This is a live document since our space is defined by change and continuous learning, so the best we can do is share our own analysis in the form of an open document and invite the community to “finish” the report with their comments. To be sure, the real work happens in the comments, discussions and actions that ensue. Feel free to send any comments to us at

This after action review is primarily based on the feedback from SBTF volunteers and official responders (see in particular the extensive feedback already posted as comments). The report helps to improve SBTF internal protocols including those on liaising with a variety of partners. Furthermore, this report contributes directly to the on-going development of a working interface between humanitarian organizations and V&TCs. Obviously, the SBTF model is not the only possible model and it focuses specifically on live mapping.

The UN OCHA team has also prepared a lessons learned document summarizing important lessons from Libya (and Japan) crisis map deployments. This report was based on a full day meeting in New York that took place on June 15, 2011. The meeting was organized by OCHA and included a number of partners from the Volunteer and Technical Community (V&TC) including the SBTF. This OCHA report, available here, provides important findings and recommendations that complement those of this SBTF review.

There is a wide range of opinions on the usefulness of the Libya Crisis Map. During the June 15 meeting in New York, OCHA staff who were most directly engaged in the initiative reaffirmed the value of the live map. They also recognized the need to provide more timely feedback on how these maps are used in future deployments. Others at the UN who were less directly involved in the project have argued that the “use case” for live maps has yet to be demonstrated. Some have highlighted that the speed and willingness of volunteers to collect and organize information as requested by OCHA (in particular for the 3Ws) was a great support at the start of the crisis before regular information management protocols within OCHA were activated.

OCHA’s own Brendan McDonald—the head of the Information Services Section who activated the SBTF for Libya—had this to say in a formal thank you note sent to all volunteers:

In an August 2011 interview with, Brendan added the following:

“If you go back a couple of years, all of this information probably would have been available, but it would have been seen as noise coming at you in multiple formats”, he says. “Libya Crisis Map has done an extraordinary job to aggregate all of this information.”

Whatever other views are out there, we hope this review will encourage constructive discussion on the future of partnerships between VTCs and traditional responders. This is why we very much welcome your views on this report, so feel free to add comments to this blog post.

The review was prepared by the SBTF team and therefore should not be considered as an independent or exhaustive evaluation. The report was also written on a purely voluntary basis and thus was not funded in any way.

The SBTF would not exist without the dedicated and talented volunteers who have joined the team. Sincere thanks go to all SBTF volunteers who contributed to the Libya Crisis Map project. We would also like to thank Crisis Commons, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Humanity Road, NetHope, the UN OCHA teams in Colombia and Geneva, and UN Global Pulse for their support. Finally, we should note that this project would never have taken off had OCHA not taken the bold decision to engage the SBTF in the first place.

SBTF Wins Technology and Innovation Award for Libya Crisis Map!

[Guest blog post by Gisli Olafsson, NetHope]

On August 2nd, the International Association of Emergency Management (IAEM) announced the winners in their European and Global Awards for 2011. The Libya Crisis Map effort received in both the European and the Global competition the first place Technology and Innovation Award in the division for State, Regional, National Government, International, or Nonprofit Organizations.

The IAEM, which has more than 5,000 members in 58  countries, is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting the goals of saving lives and protecting property during emergencies and disasters. It is a great testament to the cross-organizational collaboration and the fantastic volunteer effort involved in making the Libya Crisis Map a reality that both the European Awards Committee and the Global Awards Committee awarded it the first place award for technology and innovation.

This effort could never have been achieved without the tireless effort of you, the members of theStand-by Volunteer Task Force who put endless hours of your time into providing the most comprehensive common operational picture ever available in any crisis. The emergency management and humanitarian community looks towards this great effort as an inspiration for how things can be done in future emergencies and we can expect this model to be utilized for future emergencies. The lessons learnt during the Libya Crisis Map effort have already been utilized to further improve the process.

The awards will be formally presented at the Emergency Management Expo & Conference 2011which takes place on 11-13th October 2011 in Munich, Germany.