Archive for category nptech

HFOSS builds mobile application for Haiti based Project

In March an HFOSS team traveled to Haiti to observe and collect requirements for a new mobile  application to be development by the HFOSS to support beneficiary registration and tracking for ACDI/VOCA to assist with a food aid distribution program for expectant mothers and infants in the eastern region of Haiti.

Presidential Palace after Earthquake in Port-a-Prince haiti

Presidential Palace after Earthquake in Port-a-Prince Haiti

ACDI/VOCA is a private, nonprofit organization that has been managing a USAID-funded Food for Peace program, the Multi Year Assistance Program (MYAP) in the Southeast Department of Haiti since 2008. It currently provides a food ration to over 10,000 registered beneficiaries and their families on a monthly basis.

On their visit the team observed the present system in operation and met with ACDI/VOCA’s Chief of Party, Commodity Manager, MIS manager and potential end users. The goal of the visit was to finalize use cases and requirements for the application and to conduct field tests of various aspects of the overall system using a proof-of-concept prototype that the team developed before heading to Haiti.

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Random Hacks of Kindness New York City

On December 4 and 5, in over twenty locations around the world,  Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and The World Bank hosted the third Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), an  initiative to bring together volunteer software developers and experts in disaster risk management for a weekend-long “hackathon” to create software solutions to aid humanitarian organizations address some of their most pressing challenges, to help those in need around the world.

Ralph Morelli and Trishan de Lanerolle, drove down to attend the New York City RHoK event, hosted at Parsons the New School for Design. The event was kicked off with a reception hosted by the United Nation’s Global Pulse Initiative, with the UN Secretary General Banki Moon in attendance.  Below is a video extract of the  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s keynote speech during the RHoK NYC reception.  He highlighted the convergence of two complementary movements: participatory development and open source technologies. “Both movements have a common denominator,” he stated, and “because people have a sense of ownership, what is created is more sustainable and effective. It empowers people at the grassroots to build solutions to their own problems.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the RHoK Reception co-hosted Global Pulse

The following morning, the hackathon was kicked off with participants given overviews of a set of problem definitions, created by NGO’s, governments and experts in the field. Teams of volunteer technologist  coalesced around these problem definitions and spent the remainder of the weekend working on building  solutions, either from the ground up or using existing technologies. All the solutions from design concepts, source code to fully functional applications are released to the broader community, under a suitable OSS license. The complete list of projects worked on during RHoK New York and other global sites can be found on the RHoK Wiki.   At the close of the hackerthon, teams present the technologies they developed and the best “Hacks” of the weekend were judged and selected at the various locations.

Ralph and I met with the Sahana project team,  and I got an opportunity to work with them on Saturday.  It was great to see  the team in action working on a new module manager and database optimization for the Sahana Agasti  Mayon development branch. The Sahana RHoK contingent in NYC was lead by Chad Heuschober, from CUNY , who has a a great blog post on the groups accomplishments over the weekend at “It’s Only RHoK’n Roll, But I Like It” and for complete coverage of Sahana’s global present at RHoK check out Mark Prutsalis’s post on Sahana Situation Room.

We were able to get our hands dirty contributing to the Incident Commander project, lead by John Reilly, from Google,  to build an Android application that allows firefighters and other emergency response personnel to track incident responders and their needs in real time. Over the course of the weekend, we had built a functional android application, that used SMS messages to send and receive data, from alerts to location coordinates between  mobile devices and an app engine based web server. We were able to reuse some code snippets developed by Chris Fei,  for Sahana and POSIT. Chris, an HFOSS Alumni now, joined us in person on Sunday, he and I attended the first RHoK event back in November 2009 in Mountain View California.

Incident Commander Android Application Interface

Incident Commander Android Application Interface

  Incident commander team

Incident commander team (Shayne Adamski, Aidan Feldman,Trishan de Lanerolle,John Reilly (Team leader), Kane Albarron, Ralph Morelli, PJ Herring and Jason Lindesmith (absent from photo)

Incident Commander went on to jointly win “First Place” with TaskMeUp, developed by Nicolas di Tada, et al.  We were awarded a Windows 7 Mobile phone and $100 cash prize for our efforts. The irony of receiving a windows phone for a developing an android application was not lost on the judges and audience. The team unanimously voted to give the phone to our lead programmer PJ Herring, and the cash prize to charity.

Overall it was a great experience, from  working with an award winning team of individuals to spending the weekend with like minded technologists, brought together with the mission of bettering humanity. We have come away reinvigorated and look forward to building on the work started during RHoK 2.0 and following up with the connections made during the event. We are also interested in hosting  a RHoK event in Hartford.

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Collabbit used by NYC Salvation Army to help serve 10,000 Thanksgiving dinners

On Thanksgiving day Eli and I were in New York city to observe the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving Day Dinner program, feeding more than 10,000 New Yorkers across the boroughs, Long Island, and Westchester – up from 800 meals in 2008 and one of the largest Thanksgiving Dinners in the Division’s 129-year history. ( )

The Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services team coordinated the one-day event in a style similar to an emergency mass feeding. A work force of 500 volunteers and employees served food across the various sites. The Emergency disaster services team used an instance of Collabbit ( to plan and track the event as it happened.

Zach posting an update at Harlam site

Zach posting an update at Harlem site

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Random Hacks of Kindness

rhokOn Friday November 13th Chris and I attended the first “Random Hacks of Kindness” (RHoK) codejam at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View California, jointly organized by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Worldbank and NASA.

RHoK is an initiative that brings together disaster relief experts and software engineers to work on identifying key challenges to disaster relief, and developing solutions to these critical issues. This Codejam is the first of a series of RHoK events that will bring developers and domain experts together for a “give camp” to solve real world-problems related to Crisis/Disaster Relief.

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Camp Roberts Exercise Day 2

Finished another busy day at the camp Roberts exercise today. We made progress on several fronts.

Here is an extract from the STAR-TIDES RELIEF 10-1 website to give you a little background on the efforts.

Under a partnership between the National Defense University and the Naval Postgraduate School, the STAR-TIDES initiative hosts quarterly experiments at a remote field site in Paso Robles, CA (Camp Roberts). These experiments explore the edge of the possible within humanitarian operations, focusing on the creation of a common operating picture between all responding organizations–civilian and military, domestic and international.

The experiments in November 2009 will explore four areas:

  1. Open Aerial Data: Using UAVs to build a new base map of a region, and creating the software to automatically mosaic those still images into a new base map.
  2. Cross-Sector Information Sharing: Using quickly deployable, flexible, and scalable virtual machines to create a network of interoperable, networked information sharing devices that will connect all organizations working in a theatre of operations.
  3. Mobile Data Collection: Using mobile devices to submit structured and unstructured data to gateways that automatically map and analyze the incoming flow of information.
  4. Disaster Management System Development: Extending the Sahana disaster management system to include integration with Android phones, netbooks, OLPCS, and other computing devices.

Chamindra and I were working on getting Sahana SMS capabilities configured on the netbook using a Palm Treo 670 connected via bluetooth as a SMS gateway using smstools and AT commands. It wasn’t the most stable of environments and we ran into more than a few setbacks. We did successfully get it running on Windows using FrontLineSMS, SMS Tools and a  tethered nokia phone.  Chamindra is writing a new module to better integrate the incoming SMS messages from the field.  We are also working together with Robert K. to integrate GeoRSS feeds through GeoChat.

Chris wrote a android application to capture geo-coded tags out in the field and send it back to the Sahana server via SMS. This application will be tested tomorrow.

Antonio wrote a new “Personnel Management” module for Sahana, which facilitates the self registration of first responders, observers, or anyone involved in  a disaster response. Participants in the Moneray county fire evacuation exercise will come through and register through this new registration system. The “Personnel Management” (PM) module is an extrapolation of the VM module self registration capabilities, allowing it to function as an outward facing module for Sahana. In the same note the PM module would be expanded to allow for the registration of other information including additional organizations or assets relating to personnel.

Gavin and Mark worked on pre-populating the Sahana instance with some data sets. We have been joined by Sahana’s resident GIS expert David and a new comer to the community Dan.

For up to the  minute happening from the exercise visit STAR TIDES RELIEF 10-1 at

We will upload some photos later. This author happened to leave his camera cable back in the East Coast.

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Summer Development Projects

Between May 18 and July 24th, 2009, we conducted the second NSF supported Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) Summer Institute. We had a total of 12 student participants from 5 colleges (5 from Trinity College, 5 from Wesleyan University, 1 from University of Hartford, and 1 from University of Connecticut). With a sister institute at Connecticut College with 3 students.

Below is a brief summary of the development projects our interns worked on. The students were engaged in developing free and open source software for seven different humanitarian projects. Four of the projects (Sahana, OpenMRS, InSTEDD and GNOME) are well-established international projects; two are custom software developments for the New York City Office of Emergency Management and the Hartford Public Library; and one is a project to develop a Google-Android-based portable handset device for use in crisis management.

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After major “incidents” (such a neutral word for clearly negative events), local and national volunteer agencies group together to most effectively bring relief to the affected populations. The Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOAD, manages much of the relief effort.

With the close guidance of the New York City Office of Emergency Management, we have made a webapp, VirtualEOC, that provides a way for committees in the VOAD (like Housing or Information/IT) to share updates and files with each other.

As we prepare for a table-top disaster exercise in New York City, we’ve seen our web application grow from a greenfield to 2500 lines of PHP and scores of HTML templates. We went from a few mockups and a loose set of requirements to a real, functional application in just a couple of weeks. We have interviewed potential users, exchanged hundreds of emails, and plastered the whiteboard several times with database schemas. It’s still definitely pre-beta, but it’s already getting reviews like:

This site and all your work is really amazing.


The site looks fantastic! Great work.

Even though the application is barely functional and has yet to be field tested, Connecticut, Westchester County, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Long Island, Toronto, and several other regions have expressed interest in the application along with several major NGOs including the Red Cross.

On Thursday, Sam, Dimitar and I are going down to New York City to observe them as they use the application. The simulation involves the cleanup effort after a hypothetical major hurricane in the NYC area in which 80,000 homes and 50,000 jobs are lost.

My biggest concern at this point is the NYC traffic.

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