Archive for category Humanitarian

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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Sun and UNESCO join forces to promote FOSS

As reported here, Sun Microsystems and UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) signed an agreement at the World Summit on Information Systems (WSIS) to promote free and open source technologies. Both organizations see FOSS as the key to increasing access to information, communications technologies, and ICT skills training in under-served communities throughout the world.

According to the agreement, both organizations will promote the use of OpenOffice and Open Document Format (ODF) and other FOSS as a low cost way to improve education and universal access to information and knowledge.

The money quote:

We are glad to work with Sun to harness the power of free and open source software for extending and disseminating knowledge and to foster community approaches to software development,” said Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO.

This is great news for the HFOSS movement.


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