Aid Groups Enlist Google to Help Assess Needs in Haiti

The Boston Herald reports that aid workers, with the help of Google Earth, are uploading key information onto the Web to illustrate the needs of hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by Haiti’s earthquake—an innovation that could significantly boost the ability to respond to future disasters. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below.

The idea is new and relatively simple: U.N. and non-governmental aid officials can log onto Google Earth from makeshift settlements housing more than 600,000 people in Haiti and provide real-time details about the population and its global positioning. Although there have been some teething problems, officials believe the tool could greatly speed relief efforts. “The humanitarian agencies have some catching up to do when it comes to things like Skype and hand-held e-mail,” said Alex Wynter, a Red Cross spokesman in Haiti. “But in the base camps, we’re connected and disaster relief is going online.”

Users with Google Earth on their computer can go to the Web site, http://www.cccmhaiti.info, where a link offers a map of many of the 414 tent sites, churches, government buildings, schools and refugee camps that have sprung up since the Jan. 12 tremor that killed over 200,000 people.

Over a normal Google Earth screen of Haiti, blue spots appear showing where people have settled. Some are named by street, zone or landmark, and others are simply numbered as “IDP” — internally displaced persons — camps. Each blue spot can be clicked on, calling up an information box that gives a site’s longitude and latitude, commune and estimated number of families and individuals. The details are updated regularly so that, in theory, charities and government officials can foresee aid shortfalls and potential dangers such as landslides and floods. “It is the first time a tool of such sophistication has been deployed in such short order by humanitarian actors after a major emergency,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, which teamed with Google, the U.N. and humanitarian information body iMMAP on the project.

Google’s offices in Switzerland and Germany wouldn’t comment, but U.N. spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs praised the company for delivering images so quickly after the earthquake, first by satellite and then enhanced by shots from the ground.

For full article, see http://www.bostonherald.com/news/international/americas/view.bg?articleid=1236730&format=&page=2&listingType=intamer#articleFull

Also see http://www.tonic.com/article/google-maps-ways-to-help-haiti/ and http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/tag/haiti/

Photo by Carolyn Cole (L.A. Times)

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