Posts Tagged ‘Haiti’

Hurricane Could Make a Mess of Republican Convention

August 23rd, 2012 08:12 admin View Comments


Hugh Pickens writes writes “ABC News reports that Hurricane Isaac, currently a tropical storm brewing southeast of Puerto Rico, is on track to hit Florida the same day that Mitt Romney and 50,000 Republican delegates, journalists, protestors and guests descend on Tampa for the Republican National Convention but whether it will skim the east coast near Miami or crash head-on into Tampa, is still up in the air. The worst possible scenario is that Hurricane Isaac stays on the western track, skating over the Caribbean Sea south of Haiti, crossing the primarily flat landscape of western Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico then curving east and hitting Tampa dead-on. ‘Tampa is just as vulnerable as New Orleans was in the sense that the water will funnel into the bay area and from the storm surge which will flood completely the whole entire city of Tampa,’ says meteorologist Max Golembo. ‘It would be a disaster in the Tampa area.’ If a hurricane or tropical storm is bearing down on Tampa, the priority of law enforcement is to evacuate residents, leaving GOP officials to make the decision of when to evacuate delegates says Hillsborough County Emergency Management spokeswoman Holly Wade. ‘We have to look at a lot of factors, like timing and landfall,’ says Wade. ‘We provide the weather information, then we take that to the host committee, which decides if the event goes on or if the event gets altered.’ A Category 2 hurricane could disrupt convention activities because the Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the festivities, is within a mandatory evacuation zone for storms of that magnitude.”

Source: Hurricane Could Make a Mess of Republican Convention

The Need to Belong: Cellphones May Make People Less Charitable

February 22nd, 2012 02:30 admin View Comments

shutterstock_earthquake_damage.jpgTechnology changes not only the medium in which we process information, but how we interpret and then act on that information. The creation of cellphones is a seminal moment in the history of human communication. Barriers that were once impossible to cross are only a push of a button away. Cellphones satisfy a basic human impulse; “the need to belong.” By fulfilling that need to belong though, some researchers show that people may be less inclined be charitable to others.

The term for an individual to be charitable to others is “prosocial.” When we help out our community, give to a charity, volunteer our time, we are being prosocial. A study by researchers at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business posits that cellphone use may be linked to less prosocial tendencies. Can it be true? By fulfilling our need to belong, do cellphones cause us to care less about our fellow human?


Method & Results

The study used three experiments to determine cellphone use on prosocial activity.

Experiment 1 examined prosocial thought after mobile phone use with a word puzzle task. There were three classes of words in the puzzle: “others-related” (theirs, themselves), “self-related” (mine, myself) and neutral (cello, heed). Participants were broken into two groups: cellphone and control. The cellphone group was asked to draw a picture of their phone and describe how they used it the previous day and the told to do the word puzzle. The control group just did the puzzle without the picture or description.

Right: Figure 1 from the study — “Study 2 advertisement. This figure depicts an advertisement by a fictitious charity looking for volunteers.”

The results were that participants in the cellphone group found less others-related words, at 6%. The control group found 13% of others-related words. There was no discernible difference between the two groups in self or neutral related words.

Experiments 2 and 3 were similar to each other, each trying to validate the results of experiment 1. Experiment 2 tested prosocial intentions against two groups: cellphones and Facebook. The theory was that people would satiate the need to belong more with a cellphone than on Facebook. In one phase, participants were asked to rate their moods after cellphone or Facebook use. The second phase asked them if they would volunteer for a “Help the Homeless” program. Overall, cellphone users were less likely to volunteer time than Facebook users.

Experiment 3 was similar to 1. Participants were broken into two groups: cellphones and television. They were asked to draw the device and described their interaction with it and describe it. They were then asked to do a complicated word puzzle and told that for every answer they got right, one cent would be donated to the National Parks’ Conservation Association. Participants could break off and do a fun activity like browsing the Web at any time. They were then asked to rate their mood. Cellphone users spent less time on average on the puzzle (189 seconds) to television (220 seconds). The theory is that a TV does not fulfill the need to belong like a cellphone does, hence not inhibiting prosocial behavior.

All three experiments showed that cellphone use correlated towards less prosocial behavior. The first experiment had 98 participants, No. 2 had 197 and No. 3 had 117. Most were undergraduate students in their early 20s.

Changing Human Behavior

Ultimately, the study is trying to correlate the need to belong with cellphone usage then tying it to charitable behavior. It should be noted that the study is a “working paper” and hence has not been peer reviewed or substantiated by outside researchers.

“As technology is advancing at a very rapid pace, with devices such as smartphones, iPads, and other communication devices becoming ubiquitous, the habitual and almost perpetual use of such ‘social’ devices might ironically lead people to become less, not more, prosocial over time,” the study states.

The researchers noted that there are areas that need further study. For instance, choosing a charity that a person feels more associated with. People may act more prosocial to something they are close to. For instance, I gave several dollars to a fundraiser for a local chef that has an aggressive form of cancer. I think about it and say, “that chef could have been me.” At the time that I donated the dollars, I was sitting at a pub reading an article on my iPad. The closeness of the situation struck me whereas I am less likely to care about a distant issue like the NPCA.

The barrier to entry for prosocial behavior may also be a matter of ease. The counterweight to this research was seen when millions of dollars were donated to Haiti and Japan through the Red Cross via SMS message. It is easy to donate money via a simple text and the magnitude of those disasters affected everybody in the world.

There is a chance that the researchers are correct. By fulfilling the need to belong, we care less about our fellow human. There is also a chance that the sample size is too small and narrow, focusing on college students in one part of the world. Yet, the fundamental principle remains intact: the psychological and sociological affect of new technology is as yet un-quantified. Technology is changing how we think, how we behave. As a species, are we evolving with our technology towards more perfect beings or are our devices holding us back?

Top image: Damage from Haiti earthquake courtesy Shutterstock

Source: The Need to Belong: Cellphones May Make People Less Charitable

How Pre-Paid Energy Services Aid In Rural Electrification

February 11th, 2012 02:33 admin View Comments


First time accepted submitter superfast-scooter writes “I wanted to let the community know of a research project I’ve been fortunate to be part of — it’s a rural electrification project called SharedSolar at the Modi Research Group at Columbia University. The project has 17 pilot sites in sub-Saharan Africa to-date, providing prepaid energy services to over 3000 people who did not have access to electricity — a fraction of the over 1.3 Billion worldwide. The lab has been developing custom software applications to integrate off-the-shelf hardware components, and also provide the operational and management mechanisms needed. Communications with the sites are over the mobile networks. Consumers can recharge their accounts using either cellphones, or visit a designated local vendor who can do it at the site using an Android app. Software residing locally makes each site autonomous, and the online platform allows for remote visibility, localized consumer interactions and integration with payment solutions. And we’re planning on deploying soon in Haiti and Kenya.”

Source: How Pre-Paid Energy Services Aid In Rural Electrification

World Bank Assumes Control of Google Map Data

January 16th, 2012 01:08 admin View Comments

worldbankgoogle.jpgGoogle announced a partnership with the World Bank today to make Google Map Maker data more accessible to government organizations in disaster scenarios. Google Map Maker is the tool for crowd-sourcing the editing and maintenance of Google’s world map. Its user-generated data include locations of hospitals, schools, settlements, water sources and minor roads.

Access to these data will help governments, NGOs, researchers and individuals plan without waiting for the changes to be approved and added to the official maps. World Bank partner organizations, such as government and U.N. agencies, can contact World Bank offices to request access to the data. Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Moldova, Mozambique, Nepal and Haiti will pilot the project.

Google’s New Gatekeeper

This partnership could improve response time and effectiveness in crises in underserved areas of the world. It’s just a shame that Google has decided to compete with Ushahidi and other open-source efforts to solve this problem. Access to Google Map Maker data is privileged information, and Google has chosen the mother of all elite gatekeepers, the World Bank, to facilitate this program.

The World Bank has supported much-needed online mapping efforts, such as the April 2011 project in South Sudan that enabled Google to put the new country on the map. It has also financially backed apps supporting economic development in a worldwide contest for software developers. In partnership with academic institutions, the World Bank has also backed a Web-based knowledge platform for urban development.

These are all great efforts, but they establish a familiar pattern for the World Bank. In Web technology, just as in global economic development, the World Bank has positioned itself as an unavoidable, privileged gatekeeper, and this time Google helped.

Community mapper in Kampala, Uganda (via Google LatLong)


No More Open Source

We’ve reached out to Ushahidi for comment on the news, and we’ll update with the response. While Ushahidi‘s non-profit, open-source efforts carry on, Google is closing off access to its mapping platform upon which great works of software were once built. Having realized the enormous value of Google Maps as a resource, Google decided to start charging for API access last year.

That’s Google’s commercial prerogative, but its proprietary efforts are now in competition with the open-source community. Today’s partnership with the World Bank is a clearer example than the murky history of access to the Google Maps API. Google Map Maker is a moderated Google program, and Google has selected the World Bank as an arbiter of its data.


Last December, Google overhauled Map Maker’s editing tools to make it easier for any Google Maps user to add new data.

What do you think? Is the World Bank a good choice for Google as a partner? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Source: World Bank Assumes Control of Google Map Data

Tracking the Donors Texting For Haiti Relief

January 12th, 2012 01:30 admin View Comments

Previous research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has found that a fifth of US adults have made a charitable contribution online, and that 9% have done so using texting. But a new survey of 863 individuals who contributed money to the Haiti earthquake efforts using texting donations shows that this behaviour can be replicated, but only in other high-profile disasters such as the BP Gulf oil spill or the Japanese tsumani. Think of this as impuse charity, very much in the moment.

Three-quarters of the Haiti text donors surveyed said that their text message contributions usually result from spur-of-the-moment decisions that do not involve a lot of additional research and they were first-time givers to any cause via their mobiles. This compares to about half of those who give via other online campaigns, such as the Web or email. Slightly more than half of them subesequently texted additional donations to these other disaster relief efforts.
Not surprisingly, the Pew researchers found that the Haiti text donors were more technologically involved, and more likely to own an e-reader, a tablet, or a laptop computer. They are also younger and more racially and ethnically diverse when compared with those who contribute through more traditional means. However, their giving patterns mirror the general population. Pew found that 26% of the Haiti text donors surveyed donated $50 or less over the past year, and two thirds of these donors have contributed $250 or less to charitable causes in the last year. This is about the same pattern they observed in a previous study of the general population.

Source: Tracking the Donors Texting For Haiti Relief

Why You Should Pay Attention to East Coast Quakes: A Monster is Stalking the Heartlands

August 25th, 2011 08:27 admin View Comments

For the Central US, it’s a matter of when, not if.

The magnitude 5.8 quake that struck central Virginia on Tuesday was felt from Florida to Maine to Missouri. “This is probably the most widely felt quake in American history, even though it was less than a 6.0,†says Michael Blanpied, a USGS seismologist DISCOVER contacted after the event. The reason for this intensity is that the East Coast, like the controversial New Madrid Seismic Zone in the central U.S., is located amidst old faults and cold rocks in the middle of the North American tectonic plate, and seismic waves travel disturbingly far in such stiff, cold rock.

We would do well to take a hint from Tuesday’s expansive shake-up. It’s lucky that it struck in rural America. But a similar tremblor in the crowded cities of the central U.S. above the New Madrid zone is a matter of when, not if. And the region is woefully unprepared to mitigate the damage, as Amy Barth explores in a piece from an upcoming issue of DISCOVER:

The disastrous winter of 1811–12 is the stuff of legend in the Midwest. In the span of a few months, three major earthquakes rocked Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas, violently shaking 230,000 square miles stretching from St. Louis to Memphis. Witnesses claimed that the ground rolled in waves several feet high and the Mississippi River flowed backward. Some reports described buckling sidewalks in Charleston, South Carolina, and tremors that reached as far as Quebec. Had seismographs been available at the time, scientists believe those tremors would have registered magnitudes at least as great as the 7.0 quake that devastated Haiti in 2010 and possibly as high as 8.0. These would place them among the worst in U.S. history.

Read more…

Source: Why You Should Pay Attention to East Coast Quakes: A Monster is Stalking the Heartlands

Good World Games’ MyConservationPark Helps You Save Endangered Species

June 19th, 2011 06:05 admin View Comments

Combining social games with a cause has become a popular way to engage game players on Facebook with raising money for various philanthropic causes. For example, Zynga has raised funds via its games for the earthquake relief efforts in both Japan and Haiti over the past few years. Startup Good World Games is developing Facebook games devoted purely to marrying the power of causes with the viral explosion of social gaming. The startup’s first Facebook game, MyConservationPark, allows you to protect an endangered animal from environmental and human threats while enriching the park with fauna and flora to create a sustainable habitat.

There are 2 modes of Play in the game: Play and Decorate. In Play mode, new challenges constantly appear that you must overcome in order to save and protect your endangered species (i.e. there’s a fire in your park, hire a firefighter to put it out) In this mode, your eco-system and hero levels are affected by your success in conquering these challenges.

In Decorate mode, you can create a haven for your species and add people and creatures, trees, food and water, watchtowers and sheds, and arrange your park as you see fit. You can purchase virtual good such as park rangers, native species such as antelopes, structures such as watchtowers and camps, flora (indigenous trees and bushes), water and insects.

All purchases of virtual goods directly benefit Good World Games’ non-profit partners with 15% of in-game purchase revenue donated to select causes. Each park benefits a different partner, which include Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Sea Shepherd, Wildaid and Orangutan Outreach. You can see what percent of revenue from your game interactions have been donated as well.

Each park contains species native to its location, with different art and challenges. And top scorers in game will, on a periodic basis, receive real world rewards such as an all-expenses paid trip to help (as a volunteer) one of the non-profit partners in the field.

Eventually Good World Games plans to roll out similar games that allow Facebook users to play games towards social good.

Source: Good World Games’ MyConservationPark Helps You Save Endangered Species

Buried Mangrove Forests Protect Buildings Above From Earthquakes

June 13th, 2011 06:45 admin View Comments

Haiti National PalaceThe National Palace in Port-au-Prince
after the 2010 Haiti earthquake

What’s the News: To dampen structural vibrations from earthquakes, engineers often place a flexible layer of rubber bearings in between buildings and the soil. Now, scientists are learning that Mother Nature uses a similar technique. A research team has found that a buried layer of mangrove in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe absorbs earthquake energy, shielding the above ground from soil liquefaction. This discovery could be exploited to help protect new buildings in the Caribbean islands.

How the Heck:

  • Using an array of accelerometers at the Belleplaine test site in Guadeloupe, the team, lead by Philippe Gueguen at the University Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, measured the vibrations of 62 tremors in the area. They noticed that the shaking was less pronounced at the site when compared to nearby locations.
  • They then drilled bore holes into the ground and discovered an old mangrove swamp.
  • By analyzing the swamp and the soil column, the team learned that the mangrove dampened the quake waves and decreased the shaking of the ground soil, according to their paper posted on the non-peer reviewed arXiv.
  • Furthermore, the mangrove reduced the frequency variability of seismic motion on the ground, which should make it easier for scientists to determine earthquakes’ resonant frequency.

What’s the Context:

  • The Caribbean islands are prone to sometimes devastating earthquakes, as evidenced by the recent catastrophe in Haiti.
  • The researchers say that soil structures similar to Guadeloupe’s exist on many of the islands.
  • While the mangrove does dampen most of the seismic waves from earthquakes, the buried forests do have a specific resonant frequency that can still prove disastrous. If engineers build houses and structures that resonate at a different frequency than the earthquakes, they should be able to avoid major damage.

The Future Holds: Scientists need to work out the resonant frequency of quakes, and then engineers can try to design new buildings that will be more resistant to damage.

References: Philippe Gueguen, Mickael Langlais, Pierre Foray, Christophe Rousseau, Julie Maury. arXiv:1106.1268v1: A Natural Seismic Isolating System: The Buried Mangrove Effects.

(via Technology Review)

Image credit: Flickr/USAID_IMAGES

Source: Buried Mangrove Forests Protect Buildings Above From Earthquakes

Local Atmosphere Heated Rapidly Before Japan Quake

May 18th, 2011 05:10 admin View Comments


eldavojohn writes “A new paper presented at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland shows the rapid heating of the atmosphere directly above the fault days before the devastating earthquake hit. This is theorized to be the Lithosphere-Atmosphere-Ionosphere Coupling mechanism that occurs when large amounts of radon are released due to massive stress in the fault right before the quake. This can be detected with satellites analyzing infrared waves: ‘The radioactivity from this gas ionizes the air on a large scale and this has a number of knock on effects. Since water molecules are attracted to ions in the air, ionization triggers the large scale condensation of water. But the process of condensation also releases heat and it is this that causes infrared emissions.’ This is a shift from the Haiti earthquake where DEMETER was used to monitor ultra low frequencies. The presence of radon could also possibly explain erratic wildlife behavior prior to an earthquake.”

Source: Local Atmosphere Heated Rapidly Before Japan Quake

Mapping, Geolocation and the Future of Scalable Disaster Response

April 13th, 2011 04:00 admin View Comments

sossign_150x150.jpgOn Jan. 12, 2010 an earthquake of catastrophic proportions struck Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Among the buildings that were leveled was a school. In spite of the roof caving into the classroom, some of the children survived and one of them managed to send an SMS message. Relief workers, however, were unable to find the location of the school. Volunteers in Boston with Ushahidi were able to locate the source of the text message and sent that information back to the relief workers, who rescued the children.

This rescue was possible only due to the use of disruptive, community-driven Web 2.0 technology by volunteer and technical communities (VTCs) working on disaster and conflict management. VTCs such as OpenStreetMap, CrisisMappers, Crisis Commons, Sahana and Ushahidi have contributed greatly to disaster management. VTCs have used SMS, social media and satellite imagery; built communities around humanitarian efforts; and created technology tools and wikis, using open source software, hardware and platforms, as well as free cloud based services in affected countries such as Haiti, Libya and Japan.

Despite their successes, it has not been an easy ride.

Guest author Tanya Gupta is an international development professional by day and blogger by night. Her day job is in the Corporate Finance unit of the World Bank. At night, she reflects about development, technology and her past life in academia, as she writes.

VTCs continue to face major challenges, such as language and coordination. Many disasters occur in countries that are not English speaking, while much of the volunteer community is Angolophone. Coordination can be a problem too. Established development organizations such as the UN have been dealing with crises for many years and have a rich knowledge base, but are also challenged by data silos, proprietary systems and bureaucracy. VTCs are more agile and technically adept, but can be uncoordinated.

Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies, a report produced by the UN and partner organizations, examines these issues in detail. It identified a host of additional challenges facing VTCs

  1. The need to build a reputation for reliability, trust, professionalism
  2. Lack of resources
  3. The technical challenges of geolocation with partial information and verifying accuracy of reports
  4. Building local capacity to manage disaster and conflict situations
It is true that this presents privacy concerns. However this may be a bigger issue in the West. [...] In countries where privacy is not a cultural norm or expectation, geolocation software installed on the cheapest phones could provide enormous help during disaster relief efforts.

Despite these challenges the VTCs will play an increasingly important role in the future disaster management, thanks a to a growing number of volunteers and the power of Web 2.0 technologies.

So, what’s next?


We may see better methods of locating people during an emergency. Perhaps a Foursquare type check-in, or even better, an automatic check-in technology, where you don’t have to press a button to enter where you are, could be included in low-cost cell phones.

It is true that this presents privacy concerns. However this may be a bigger issue in the West. For example, the Singapore constitution does not contain any explicit right to privacy. In countries where privacy is not a cultural norm or expectation, geolocation software installed on the cheapest phones could provide enormous help during disaster relief efforts.

The countries with the highest number of people affected by disasters in 2010 include China, Pakistan and Thailand. These are countries where privacy protections are low, and where privacy is not a strong cultural value. They also score low on “individualism” in a framework developed by Greet Hofstede as a way to evaluate a country’s culture.

If we are to postulate that a lower score in individualism for a country also indicates that its people place a low importance on privacy, then it seems plausible that some disaster-prone countries could implement geolocation on cell phones without violating societal norms and save thousands, if not millions of lives.


A recent trend in VTC disaster management has been to use social media data as a layer on crisis maps. For example, a Hypercities project maps live Twitter messages on a map of Egypt, showing the location and picture of the Twitterer. This is helpful but some of the messages are clearly not relevant to crisis mapping. The challenge in using social media as a crisis map layer is that the data is huge, chaotic, free, and collectively good, but individually unreliable. To improve the social media data for inclusion on crisis maps, we need to focus on quality and relevance.

To determine quality in a Twitter stream, we can assume that source-quality equals information-quality. To identify quality sources for a given topic, we could use Twitter sources via curated lists from Listorious or established news media outlets and non-profits like Ushahidi. For instance Listorious has a list of reputable sources for the Haiti Earthquake curated by The New York Times.

To further refine the source-quality measure, we could also look at the number of followers of sources and the number of retweets that contain a relevant hashtag. For example, a tweet containing #civ2010 #IvoryCoast #civsocial #ict4d about the Abidjan crowd-sourced crisis map: was retweeted extensively in April.

We can assume that when we get higher quality tweets, the tweets are more relevant. Once the parameters for source and content quality are set, a program could read the Twitter stream and filter the quality tweets based on the selected parameters. In addition to improving the quality and relevance of the social media layer of crisis maps, perhaps we could also focus on improving the quality of the sources of the crisis map, through crowd sourcing methods such as incorporating Google’s +1 or a like-type function on information contained in the collaborative disaster maps.

Finally, improved matching between people needing assistance in a disaster and those who can help would add value. A service could be set up to match people affected by natural disaster with those who have the funds, goods, time or know-how to assist them. For example, Kiva partners entrepreneurs with lenders via existing microfinance institutions that facilitate the loans. matches American public school teachers who need classroom supplies with “microdonors.”

This kind of a matching service could be set up for organizations, groups, individuals and families affected by natural disasters. Some of the elements that would include skills, available time, specialty, needs (goods and services) and urgency.

The future of Web 2.0, social media and their applications are as unpredictable as the people they connect. But from what we have seen and and what we can reasonably postulate,  it is clear that these technologies have a profound positive impact in disaster management. I am sure the best is yet to come.

Photo by connor212

Source: Mapping, Geolocation and the Future of Scalable Disaster Response