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Digital Humanitarian Response to Super-Typhoon Haiyan

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, November 11 2013

Survivors among the wreckage after Super-typhoon Haiyan (Flickr/EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection)

A devastating super-typhoon with gusts of 200-m.p.h. winds ravaged huge swaths of the Philippines this weekend. Super-typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) is reported to be the strongest recorded storm to ever make landfall. Although the official death toll is now at 1,774, thousands are still missing and a Filipino presidential spokesman has said they are praying it does not rise to 10,000. Humanitarian organizations have already begun the daunting task of bringing relief to the nearly 10 million people affected by the super storm. In addition to the emergency aid and military personnel flooding into the country, a team of digital humanitarians are also on the job. Patrick Meier reports on his blog iRevolution that for the first time humanitarian response to Typhoon Haiyan makes full use of both human computing and machine computing to understand the big data in the aftermath of disaster.

"I have to say, I was caught by surprise," United Nations disaster assessment team chief Sebastian Rhodes Stampa told CNN. "Just getting off the military transport and looking at the airport, it almost wasn't there. It was utterly destroyed."

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has partnered with the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) and formally asked for digital humanitarian support with Haiyan. The DHN is uploading a few thousand tweets at a time to MicroMappers, where volunteers can tag and sort and sift through big data, a little bit at a time.

Meier says on his blog that at one point volunteers tagged 1,500 tweets in only 10 minutes. Volunteers can either go help at ImageClicker or TweetClicker.

This is only the second time MicroMappers has been used as part of a large humanitarian relief program. In September Meier had to rush to get it up and running in the wake of an earthquake in Pakistan.

In an interview in September, Meier told techPresident that the need for MicroMappers became apparent during a previous disaster in the Philippines, Typhoon Pablo. In a last minute effort, they were able to tag and map nearly 100 pieces of multimedia content. Contrast that with the effort for Typhoon Haiyan, in which they were able to process more than 35,000 thousand tweets last Friday alone. That's progress.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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