THE FUTURE OF DISASTER RISK RESPONSE IN THE WAKE OF THE DIGITAL HUMANITARIAN SPACE

Today, not only can you donate cash to support those affected by disasters, you can also donate a few minutes of your time to support the relief efforts on the ground thanks to new humanitarian technologies and platforms orchestrated by a network which brings together a diverse set of individuals from the humanitarian, development, human rights, policy, technology, and academic communities.
This network catalyzes communication and collaboration between a wide range of different communities with the purpose of advancing the study and application of crisis mapping worldwide. Popularly known as the International Conference of Crisis Mappers [ICCM], it once again brought hundreds of humanitarians together at the United Nations Office in Nairobi [UNON]on November 18 – 22, 2013 discussing and plotting ideas for the future of humanitarian response in a conference tagged “Humanitarian Technologies – In and Out of Africa”.
The Crisis Mappers network was launched in October 2009 at the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009) in Cleveland, Ohio. These annual conferences facilitate collective engagement and dialogue that helps construct the boundaries of this emergent new discipline. At the conference, participants also brainstorm how to solve real problems and initiate projects that help advance this new field.
Throughout the year, the network facilitates continuing virtual interaction among its members.Participants engage through webcasts, create and browse profiles, email their needs through the dedicated mailing list, write blogs, and share other announcements with the group. “We in the CrisisMappers community have the luxury of having learned a lot about digital humanitarian response since the Haiti Earthquake; we have learned important lessons about data privacy and protection, codes of conduct, the critical information needs of humanitarian organizations and disaster-affected populations, standardizing operating procedures, and so on” said Patrick Meier, the co-founder of the Network, in his keynote welcome address.
This year, the ICCM started with a preconference site visit to SiSi ni Amani and Spatial Collective, which allowed participants to observe first-hand how GIS, mobile technology and communication projects operate in informal settlements, covering a wide range of topics that include governance, civic education and peace building. As learning as become part of the ICCM, the second day was observed at the iHub, where different kinds of training were observed throughout the day. Facilitators from ESRI, Open Street Maps, MapBox, CaerusGeo, Ushahidi took participants through creating maps using the different platforms, and likewise lessons learnt from various initiatives that have been used on the platform. The short messaging service [SMS] and mobile security training stream was anchored by Frontline SMS and Tactical Technology Collective, showing how humanitarians have been deploying the platform to create social change and the security implications. The team from Open Knowledge Foundation [OKF] was able to curate their school of data training with some participants, while the knowledge stream was lead by Internews.
Angela Oduor leading the Mapping Stream session at the iHub 
On November 20, 2013 the main conference started at the UNON, Gigiri with the traditional ICCM Ignite talks showcasing great digital humanitarian works, forward – thinking concept and ideas, with recent research and findings within the network. This was followed by a panel that led the discussion mixed with a reflection on the Westgate Mall attack in September in Nairobi. Philip Ogola of the Red Cross in Kenya confirmed that the social media played a big role in getting situation awareness during crisis; Angela Oduor of Ushahidi, a non government technology outfit in Kenya showcased how the ushahidi platform was used in reaching out to a number of families during the siege. As technology is becoming the future to response, IBM’s Charity Wayua discussed how technology will continue to be deployed in response to siege such as that of the Westgate. At the end of the discussion, it was noted that technology played a big role in creating situation awareness during the Westgate attack, nevertheless co-ordination using this technology still remains a challenge, which in the near future will be tackled.
ICCM 2013 participants at the UNON conference room
As part of the day’s event, the tech fair became a side attraction at the conference room lounge. The fair brought together technology tools and events that have or will shape humanitarian response. Presentations at the fair included the Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response by the Qatar Computing Research Institute; NGO Aid Map by Interaction; location-based web and mobile software by Azavea; The Walk to Mali project by Earth Hour Nigeria; Mobile data collection in Somalia by mFieldwork; Security issues for everyday digital by Tactical Technology Collective and ESRI showcasing its various GIS platforms. The day went into a closing session with UNOCHA’s Information Management officer – Andrej Verity giving the keynote of the conference, live via Skype from the Philippines. He highlighted the importance of the work of digital humanitarians in helping first responders on the ground, especially since the beginning of the devastating 300km/hr typhoon Yolanda that struck the Philippines. “We have witnessed a paradigm in the way humanitarians all around the world now respond to crisis and disasters since 2009 till this present moment, just this morning, the head of OCHA –Valerie Amos, has been presented verified situation updates of the Philippines, this data, gathered by the various digital humanitarians over the past few weeks will help hasten how our responders on the ground respond to needs of the people in the Philippines” said Andrej
The following day witnessed roundtable sessions about Big data with Anahi Ayala of Internews reiterating that Big data or data becomes useless if the people cannot make use of it, Emmanuel Letouze of the University of California affirmed that Big data has no half life, and remain available while Jon Gosier advised that leveraging on Big data is important especially if an organization can define what is willing to do with it. Another session discussed CrisisMapping for Conflict Management with Sisi ni Amani’s Rachael Brown sharing how they have combined mobile technologies with community engagement in creating conflict situation awareness in Kenya, while Peter Nwamachi from the Kenya’s government steering committee on peace building and conflict management corroborated the importance of collaborating with Sisi ni Amani to respond and build peace among communities. Helena Puig shared lessons learnt from using crisismapping for peace building in several developing countries. Analyzing information from Hard-to-Access areas, the third and last session for the day saw Christophe Billen of the People’s Intelligence challenging the crisismapping community to be cautious of information that is been put up in the public domain, while Nat Walker of the Liberia Early Warning group mentioned the importance of testing different tools and community engagement in providing early warnings to government institutions in Liberia.

The last day of the conference were dedicated to self organized sessions by USAID, Google, Openstreetmap, Humanitarian Innovation Fund; United State, State Department; OKF; ICT for Justice. It witnessed an amalgamation of ideas in improving workflows for different organization, mapping party for the Philippines and Central African Republic, and the importance of Open data, Big data in Crisis mapping.
Participants at the Digital Humanitarian Summit
ICCM over the years have witnessed the emergence of the Digital Humanitarian Network [DHN] which is a network that coordinates different organization that help responds to disasters, and also connect their output in meeting the needs of the traditional first responders, humanitarian organizations on the ground. The DHN had its 2 day summit at the 88mph on Ngong Road, also in Nairobi. Organizations present at the summit included Geeks Without Bounds, GISCorps, Stand By Task Force [SBTF], UNOCHA, Google, Humanitarian Openstreetmap (HOTOSM), Connected Development [CODE], Red Cross Kenya, Crisis Cleanup, Save the Children Kenya and a list of others. The summit allows for a reflection on the activation and workflow of all the DHN and also external admissions into the network. The summit ended with the clear roles for specific workflow for different member organization, the start of local physical meet ups, new volunteer engagement workflows and new mechanisms in admitting prospective members.


In developed and developing countries, people are connecting through technology at an accelerating pace, with technologies that have more computing power than NASA used to send a man to the moon. Leveraging on these technologies, this new space called “CrisisMappers” continue to evolve and increasingly informing the world, thus making connected self reliant communities to affect the delivery of humanitarian aid. Overtime, this space present a fundamental shift in how we can respond to disaster risk management programs and intervene in disaster situations especially in Nigeria, and the West African region that has experienced more disasters in recent times. Traditional disaster management organizations have started embracing these changes and are reorienting their approaches around the essential objective of helping people to help themselves – Our disaster management organizations too should take a cue from this community as it holds great promise for the future, even as the space recognizes its pitfalls and the fact that progress has not always been smooth – a challenge that will be figured out during the ICCM 2014 in the New York City!