I had a thrilling experience earlier this week. Well, maybe not thrilling for everyone, but for information junkies like myself, it was a blast.
Anyone who has worked as a first responder during an emergency will know that, no matter how hard we try to be organised, we battle a wave of chaos in the wake of major disasters. The United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) makes every effort to coordinate the efforts of numerous different organisations, often without a reliable communication network and separated by significant distances. Dispersed over an archipelago, the Philippines presented a significant logistical and communication challenge. I will leave the logistics to the logisticians, but I was up for a communication challenge.
Rewind to a couple of months ago when I was on leave in New Zealand and looking at the latest developments in communication. I have been interested in crisis mapping for a while and so joined a group called the Standby Task Force to get some experience in the art of crisis mapping.
In the days following Typhoon Yolanda (or Haiyan), we were requested by OCHA to help with mapping the effort. I am no expert in Geographic Information Systems, but I do know my way around media - old and new. So I focused on finding out who was doing what. Most aid agencies working on the ground in the Philippines had issued media releases about what they were doing. It was a simple, but time consuming matter to slowly search through media releases about the response and find out what everyone was doing. Along with others who were collecting other types of information, we entered it all into an online spreadsheet. This was then fed into a central website that anyone could access about the response. OCHA also created a very neat info-graphic of the information (pictured above), which ended up in the hands of Valerie Amos. Valerie, and others, could see at a glance what was being done to aid people in the Southern Philippines.
The nature of emergencies is such that since Monday, the infograohic is probably already out of date, so the Standby Task Force is still working to update it. So that's how I spent part of my weekend and Monday. Next week (or next time I have time to blog), how to create neat infographics.