After 911, security mitigation and preparedness was high on the list of most critical infrastructure owners, and the water sector was no exception. Here in Canada, the move had already begun to develop a national critical infrastructure framework and national database that water utilities, both public and private, could use to access and share information related to security and emergency management.

Although very debilitating, intentional impacts from acts of violence or terrorism are not the only hazards that can negatively impact the production and distribution of a water supply. As physical security protection and site safety processes were improving, impacts from identified hazards such as water contamination, infectious disease, and catastrophic infrastructure failure were additional areas that needed attention. Luckily, taking an “all-hazards” approach allows for the use of processes, procedures, and response plans to be utilized across any organization regardless of the mechanism, as the impact is invariably the same.

Like most major Canadian cities, Calgary is situated near a waterway, both to its benefit and demise as the city’s downtown core is at the confluence of two separate rivers; the Bow and Elbow.

From a redundancy perspective, Calgary couldn’t have been situated any better as each river has its own source and watershed ensuring (for the most part) that there should always be at least one available water source for the population. Alternatively, the fact is that either river could flood during any given year, or worse yet, they could both flood at the same time.

Understanding potential impacts from technological, intentional, or natural hazards supported the development of holistic response and recovery planning, including a water-specific tactical operations centre known as the the H2OC.

This facility allowed the members of the management team a space to gather when certain triggers or parameters were met that had been previously defined through a Threat, Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA). Water emergency management representatives would gather due to water quality, security, system, or flooding emergencies to monitor and support responders, coordinate communications, and prioritize long and short-term objectives.

In a span of less than 18 months, from January 2004 to June 2005, the water sector in Calgary would experience a loss of a major feedermain impacting more than 100,000 residents, and a 200-year flood that would cause evacuations of several thousand people. The newly formed Water Emergency Response Teams and the H2OC would be turning their training into reality.

The feedermain failure was a stark reminder to all regarding the interdependencies of critical infrastructure, as transportation routes were closed, hospitals were implementing evacuation procedures, and emergency service responders was delayed. In addition, water quality and communication response plans were put to the test. The emergency management team was put through the processes and procedures of how to function within an emergency operations centre environment, and improvements were made to the plans along the way. All of this contributed to the success of the response to the 2005 “Flood of the Century.” This flood had major impacts on water quality and production, and laid the groundwork for mitigation and preparedness for the next time a flood might occur.

The success of the response and recovery procedures during operations of the H2OC supported further creation of additional Tactical Operations Centres throughout the corporation. Police, Fire, Water and Transportation began initiating the process of developing emergency and continuity programs within their own business unit. This post 2005 flood era provided an opportunity to research and develop a corporate model that would support the all-hazards approach and lessons learned from H2OC activations.

It’s been six weeks since launching the new site and by all accounts, the changes have gone over well (hey, analytics don’t lie…and I haven’t gotten any hate mail—yet). We’ve had great feedback on the design, content and as alway, our events keep filling up (don’t worry if you didn’t get a spot in the CSA Z1600 course, we’ll run one again in the new year).

If you’re a member, you’ll have noticed our member area is now up and running. This is the place for you to connect with your fellow emergency managers. Have a burning question but don’t know who to ask? Throw it out in a forum and one of the smart OAEM minds should be able to help. Want to talk inside baseball among your group of [insert niche emergency management group here]? Forums are the place.

We also have a lot of great events coming up next week: the Public Sector Social Media Conference, CSA Z1600 and a disaster movie meet up with drinks and (free!) food to follow. Click the links for more info or to register.

I’ll be heading to Ottawa for the Public Sector Social Media Conference hosted by the Conference Board of Canada in partnership with OAEM. If you can’t make it but have questions on using social media in emergency management, send them my way and I’ll find answers while there. Of particular interest to the OAEM community, will be Dr. Kate Kaminska from DRDC and Boyd Neil from Hill + Knowlton speaking on social media and digital volunteers for disaster response. I’ll be live tweeting most of the time, so you can follow along at @miss_hannahz (or just search Hannah Z).

As always, feel free to get in touch if you want to contribute, like what you see, hate what you see or just want to say hi. (Hi!)

The recent tragedy at Umpqua Community College in Oregon reminded us once again that no community is immune to crisis, and that we must all continue to plan and prepare for any incident or disaster that may occur in the future. However, it was also one of the first times the news media chose to focus on the helpers and heroes, victims, and survivors involved, instead of focusing on the perpetrator.

The late Fred Rogers, beloved and gentle host of PBS’ Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood for over 30 years, once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers – you will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words, and I am comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Indeed, helpers and heroes are everywhere, and they shine brightest in darkness.

In this new era of emergency management, where crises and disasters seem to occur every week, it’s more important than ever to focus on all of the helpers behind the scenes. Those of us who’ve been involved in responding to an emergency in the past can confirm that, for every negative story we see on the news, there are thousands of positive and heartwarming stories we don’t ever hear about. In my talks throughout the globe, I continue to encourage parents to teach their children to look for the “heroes and helpers” whenever they see images of disasters in the news – the police officer carrying an injured victim to safety; the firefighter putting out the fire, the everyday citizen directing traffic after a major power outage, to name just a few. There will always be heroes and helpers in the periphery – you just have to look for them.

I became inspired to write my book, Disaster Heroes – Invisible Champions of Help, Hope, and Healing, during my first volunteer effort in New Orleans, about eighteen months post-Katrina. As much of the media coverage had long since died down by then, I had no idea how bad it still was – until I started hearing about and meeting the countless survivors, first responders, and volunteers who were helping to rebuild and recover the great city of New Orleans. Their poignant and grounding stories led me to start researching and profiling some of the ‘everyday heroes’ who have shown up following the some of the world’s most significant modern disasters to do whatever it takes to make the world right again.

My time in New Orleans and subsequent research uncovered hundreds of stories of people who freely risked all odds in their endeavors to help rebuild the landscapes and lives of those devastated by disaster. As a former journalist and news anchor, I am acutely aware that we rarely focus on and celebrate the good, so I decided to find and share some of these empowering stories with the world. In no way do I want to downplay the tragic losses and devastation experienced following disasters, but I do think it’s extremely important to let people know about all the life-affirming stories of help and heroism that shine through.

Everyone remembers that fateful morning of September 11, 2001 in New York City following the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. That day changed us all forever. Within the emergency management community, it redefined us and introduced us to the violent reality of terrorism.

However, the events of that day also brought out the best in people. I remember seeing televised images of thousands of strangers silently walking together, supporting one another, holding each other up. Ordinary citizens stepped in to help direct traffic and carry the wounded. There were countless stories of people throughout Manhattan, New York, and New Jersey taking in strangers who couldn’t get home that night. Condolences and messages of support came in from all over the world. The horrific events of that day united us all.

These and other actions on 9/11 and in the days, months, and years that followed are beautiful examples of our basic human instinct to support and help others in need following a disaster or life-threatening event.

Courageous and dedicated men and women risk their lives daily to ensure our safety. Police, fire, EMS, the military, and emergency response organizations perform acts of heroism every single day. These men and women are true examples of heroism and are hopefully recognized regularly for their efforts, as they should be. But there are many other “hidden heroes” most people don’t ever hear about.

After every disaster, we are bombarded with images of death, devastation, and destruction. The media rarely focuses on the countless helpers behind the scenes. While each disaster reveals our fragility, it also demonstrates how resilient we humans really are, and highlights our natural urge to come together during times of crisis to help our neighbours.

When I started meeting and interviewing these “disaster heroes,” I realized they all shared similar characteristics. Empathy, selflessness, and perseverance were three common traits, as well as creativity, initiative, and “thinking outside the box.” I also discovered heroism can be demonstrated in many different forms and is displayed every day by men, women, and girls, and boys of all ages and backgrounds.

All of their stories had another thing in common. They each demonstrated how just one person with one idea could snowball into an effort involving hundreds, if not thousands, of others who donated their time, money, and efforts to help disaster survivors.

As we enter a new era of emergency management, I hope communities continue to recognize the need for collaboration between first responders, practitioners, and everyday volunteers after a disaster. By doing so, we can become more creative, innovative, and respectful of the roles, ideas, and experiences we all bring to the table during a crisis.

Every month from this point forward, I will focus on a different “disaster hero,” profiling uplifting stories of ordinary men, women, and children who have done extraordinary things to help respond, rebuild, and recover from catastrophes around the world.


Ronnie Goldman – The 9/11 Terror Attacks and The Spirit of Louisiana

Spirit and Disaster HeroesOne of these heroes, who also happens to be the inspiration for my book, is New Orleanian Ronnie Goldman. The retired telephone engineer started a fundraising campaign after seeing President Bush address the nation standing atop one of the 35 fire trucks destroyed in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. His original goal was to raise enough money to build and deliver a brand new fire truck to FDNY on behalf of the residents of Louisiana, to replace one of the many lost that tragic day.

In the end, thanks to Ronnie Goldman, the people of Louisiana raised $1.2 million, which went to purchase several response vehicles for the New York City Fire Department, including the first delivery, a pumper truck named “The Spirit of Louisiana,” as well as two special duty vehicles, the Heart of Louisiana, also known as “Spirit 2,” and the “Soul of Louisiana, or “Spirit 3.” But the story doesn’t end there.

In a heartwarming twist of fate, little did Ronnie know that The Spirit of Louisiana would return to the state of its inception to help respond and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. A total of 343 New York City firefighters, the same number lost in 9/11, joined the Spirit in New Orleans to provide assistance after Katrina.

Then, in 2012, the Spirit was recommissioned and dispatched back to New York to support recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy, where it remained for several months before returning to Louisiana. The two cities, separated by 1200 miles, continue to enjoy a unique and lasting connection, all thanks to “everyday hero” Ronnie Goldman.

Suzanne Bernier is an award-winning and internationally recognized emergency management and business continuity consultant, instructor and speaker, who has helped governments, communities and companies plan for and respond to disasters for nearly two decades.

Back in July, Environment Canada added another way for Canadians to stay on top approaching severe weather. After months of negotiations with Twitter, a number of Environment Canada twitter accounts were created. Each of these accounts corresponds to a city forecast page on the Environment Canada weather website, weather.gc.ca.

This new automated weather alert messaging using Twitter is based on information contained in the weather alerts issued by our meteorologists whenever dangerous weather conditions threaten. Canadians can select which communities they want to follow to receive a weather-alert tweet directly to their mobile phone, tablet or computer. Each tweet includes a link back to Canada.ca/weather, allowing users to read more details on the specific weather alert.

Given the growing number of organizations tweeting Canadian weather alert information, it is important for Canadians to have access to consistent, uniform and reliable information coming from the official source. The development of this new method to disseminate weather alerts allows more Canadians, media, businesses, municipalities and emergency organizations to have access to timely and location-specific severe weather information via Twitter. In addition, since these alert tweets are created automatically, in both official languages, there is a minimum of delay between the forecaster issuing the warning and the tweet being made available to the appropriate followers.

Twitter accounts in English and French have been created for over 830 communities appearing on Canada.ca/weather. We expect an annual average of 25,000 warnings to be issued in total for the communities served by the new system.

Followers are also invited in each tweet to report severe weather they have observed via a hashtag per province. These provincial hashtags are regularly monitored by regional meteorologists during severe weather events. The weather alert tweets can also be re-tweeted by followers.

The table provides a breakdown of the information contained in an Environment Canada tweet related to a severe weather warning.
The table provides a breakdown of the information contained in an Environment Canada tweet related to a severe weather warning.

To subscribe to the Twitter feed for a given city page on the Environment Canada weather website,  click on the blue bird found below the Historical Data section. More information on this initiative and a listing of all of the various twitter accounts linked to the city pages can be found here.

Comparatively speaking, emergency management is a fairly new field. There is still a great deal of information to be uncovered and best practices to be developed. This can be rather daunting or exciting depending on your point of view. There are often opportunities to make improvements even in established practices, such as hazard identification and risk assessment. Hazard identification and risk assessment (HIRA) is regarded to be the foundation of an effective emergency management program as shown in the Emergency Management Doctrine for Ontario (Emergency Management Ontario, 2010).

The revision of the HIRA provided the ideal opportunity to seek out new ways of improving the methodology. One of the ongoing issues in emergency management is the need to integrate knowledge from practitioners and academics since each side can provide invaluable insights. To pull from both areas, a literature review was done that included both scientific journal articles and research and current risk assessment practices. This was followed by an extensive consultation process that included subject matter experts on each of the hazards and Ministry Emergency Management Coordinators within Ministries that had Order in Council designations. The outcome of this was the identification of gaps in many current risk assessment practices and potential solutions that could be built into the new HIRA.

The first gap was the identification of new hazards. In some instances these were emerging hazards, like geomagnetic storms that were not previously included due to a general lack of awareness of their potential for damage. Others, such as cyber-attacks, had not been previously differentiated from other categories of hazards. A third hazard, natural space object crash, was added after further consultation with a subject matter expert established that this hazard had a very different frequency and potential impacts from the already identified human-caused space object crash.

The second gap was the ability for a risk assessment tool to be proactive. Many risk assessments are based on historical data. While historical data is important in any risk assessment, it does have limitations. The main issue is that the past is not always indicative of the future. Factors such as climate change, changes in technology, and changes in vulnerability result in significant alterations in risk profiles and are not captured by using solely historic data. Another limitation with historic data is that it often fails to adequately capture hazards with long return periods, especially when the historic records only go back a couple hundred years. While a HIRA is not intended to be a predictive tool, it is required to present a current view of the hazards and risks. To address this, a third variable was added to the standard risk = frequency*consequence equation in the Provincial HIRA methodology. This third variable, ‘changing risk’ attempts to include factors such as changes in vulnerabilities and anticipated changes in frequency.

The third gap was the need to include psychosocial impacts. The damaging psychosocial impacts of disasters have been well documented in the scientific literature (i.e.Gleser et al. 2013, Warsini et al. 2014). However, a review of current risk assessment practices found that this impact is rarely included, despite being well accepted as an impact of disaster. Psychosocial impact was added as a subcategory of the consequence variable in the revised methodology to ensure its inclusion.

Overall, the ability to draw from knowledge from both practitioners and academics was immensely beneficial. It allowed for the identification of gaps in the previous methods and provided solutions that resulted in a more accurate picture of the risk. The integration of these two areas of knowledge is what allowed the revised methodology to become recognized as a best practice. Further opportunities to draw upon both areas of expertise should be explored within emergency management as it can result in a more effective and complete product.

References

Emergency Management Ontario. (2010). Emergency Management Doctrine for Ontario. Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Government of Ontario.

Gleser, G. C., Green, B. L., & Winget, C. (2013). Prolonged psychosocial effects of disaster: A study of Buffalo Creek (Vol. 25). Elsevier.

Warsini, S., West, C., Res Meth, G. C., Mills, J., & Usher, K. (2014). The psychosocial impact of natural disasters among adult survivors: an integrative review. Issues in mental health nursing, 35(6), 420-436.

While the likelihood of a community experiencing a dam failure is low, the potential consequences can be catastrophic. Dam breaches can inundate communities unexpectedly, imposing immediate life and safety risks, devastating infrastructure, creating irreversible damage to the environment and the social fabric of a community.

Ontario Power Generation engages with the regulator, host communities and other stakeholders to build a common understanding of dam safety risks. Through forums created in developing plans, hosting stakeholder meetings and executing tabletop and full scale exercises, risks associated with dams are effectively mitigated. These partnerships can result in better community infrastructure plans, mitigation measures, coordinated response capabilities and support in recovery operations. Exercises conducted frequently incorporate mock social media injects to engage staff with a modern, realistic situation that they should be prepared to respond to.

The photo shows a mock YouTube video posted by an employee with a photoshopped image of an emerging dam failure. Similar injects provided to all stakeholders, for example, of mock weather forecasts, enhances the element of realism that encourages partnership and participation in future exercises.

 

One of the building blocks of emergency management is the risk analysis that is used to determine how priorities are set for disaster risk reduction activities. There are a variety of approaches that are used ranging from simple exercises involving little time and resources, to very large and complicated ones. An example of the former is a workshop where informed people create a HIRA using a hazard probability and consequence chart based upon their experience and intuition; an example of the latter is the use of sophisticated risk assessment software such as the catastrophe (CAT) models used by the insurance industry.

Common to all methods is the issue of what range of scenarios should be considered. Arguments can be made (and often are) to exclude worst-case scenarios or events that are very rare (though potentially catastrophic), including their very low probability, the difficulty in determining probability or consequence, or their tendency to make policy makers ‘throw up their hands’ in terms of addressing them. One has to wonder though, how much error is introduced by their exclusion. If it is relatively small then it might not matter, but if it is large then excluding them is a bad idea.

This blog will present support for the inclusion of the full range of risk scenarios, including worst-case events, in a disaster risk analysis. Though there are both theoretical and empirical arguments to support this assertion, this blog will only consider observational data. A fuller paper including theoretical aspects of the issue is being developed for publication (more information on the theoretical arguments can be found by doing a literature search on power laws and fat tails in statistical distributions).

To illustrate this issue, consider the list of billion dollar weather disasters in the United States published by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There are 146 events in this list (as of June 23, 2015), with a total cost of $1,015 billion U.S. (2014 dollars). Figure 1 presents these events rank ordered, with rank 1 being the most costly (Table 1). In this data set the top five events account for one-third of the total cost of the 146 events.

Figure 1_Etkin

Figure 1: % Cost of U.S. Billion Dollar Weather Disasters. Note how the vast majority of the events are relatively small, while a few very large ones account for much of the total impacts.

Table 1_Etkin

Table 1: The five most costly U.S. billion dollar weather disasters

It is clear that the top few events are of great importance to a risk analysis of U.S. weather disasters, and this is because the distribution has what is called a fat or long tail. This type of distribution, when presented in a histogram format (Figure 2) shows a very large number of relatively small events, with a few very large ones.

Figure 2_Etkin

Figure 2: Histogram of U.S. Billion Dollar Weather Disasters (1980-2014). Costs are in ranges of $20 billion, starting at $1-20 billion. Disasters of less than $1 billion are not included.

This kind of distribution is typical of disaster data sets. By contrast, a normal or Gaussian distribution (also commonly known as the bell curve) has a graph similar to the example in Figures 3. Note how in this case the most common event lies near the middle of the range instead of at one end, and the largest few ranked events do not account for a very large proportion of the total number of deaths, in contrast to Figure 1.

Figure 3a_Etkin

Figure 3a:  Monthly Driver Deaths in the United Kingdom (1969-1984). This data set is approximately normally distributed (it is somewhat skewed to the right with a slightly extended tail towards higher deaths) with a sample size of 192 months, mean of 1670 deaths and standard deviation of 290. Source: Rdatasets: An archive of data sets distributed with R. https://vincentarelbundock.github.io/Rdatasets/datasets.html

Figure 3b_Etkin

Figure 3b: Monthly Driver Deaths in the United Kingdom (1969-1984), rank ordered. In contrast to the disaster data sets shown in Figure 1, the top few events located in the slightly elongated tail contribute relatively little to total deaths.

The normal or Gaussian distribution is an example of a distribution that has narrow tails, which means that the frequency of extreme events decreases rapidly at the tail ends of the curve.  Clearly, in the case of fat tails, it is more important for a risk analysis to consider extremes and worst-case scenarios. This has important implications for disaster risk analyses since disaster data tend to have fat tails the extreme events in the tail of the distribution (the worst cases) should be included in a risk analysis if it is not to be unrealistically biased towards low values.

 

Student committees

The Education Committee is currently looking for student members to join our committee. We are looking for enthusiastic students from across Ontario who are studying an EM educational program (in Ontario or in other locations) to join the committee. Each eligible post-secondary institution with an EM-related educational program is able to send TWO student representatives to join the committee.

Please register your interest via the following link: https://adminpipap.wufoo.com/forms/oaem-student-committee-nomination-form/

The committee will meet once a semester to develop initiatives that will build cooperation and opportunities for students and the EM community. We will be closing applications for membership of the committee on 06 November. If you have any questions, please email education@oaem.ca

Student Mentorship Scheme

OAEM will be establishing a pilot mentorship scheme for college and university students based in Ontario who are studying an EM educational program. We currently have several mentors who have expressed an interest in providing guidance to college and university students and we want to match these mentors with students who have similar interests and who would benefit from their assistance. Please be aware that all students participating in the scheme must be current members of the Association. If you would like to participate in the mentorship scheme, please complete the application link below by Friday 06 November: https://adminpipap.wufoo.com/forms/mentorship-application-form/

Once the initial results have been analyzed, we will contact successful applicants about the second stage of the application process. The aim is for mentors and mentees to be in contact from late November and for the first scheme to run from January – April 2016. OAEM also welcomes and appreciates the participation of any working professionals who would like to be mentors and they are able to apply via this link: https://adminpipap.wufoo.com/forms/mentors-application-form/

If you have any questions, please contact education@oaem.ca and one of the Education Committee members will be happy to help.

October 22, 2014 will live in the minds of Canadians for a long time. On that day, Corporal Nathan Cirillo tragically lost his life. The perpetrator of this heinous murder then attacked the halls of our Parliament building and was eventually shot and killed. These events highlight the dangers that terrorism and lone actors can pose, and they have raised a number of questions about the security arrangements on Parliament Hill.

On Wednesday, June 3, 2015, the Independent Investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Into the RCMP Security Posture on Parliament Hill was released, alongside a number of other reports on the events of October 22. There were quite a few recommendations within these reports, some of which were redacted for security reasons. Two key recommendations for an effective security response that were identified have cropped up time and again in The Conference Board of Canada’s security and emergency management work:

  1. Communications Interoperability

The issue of communications interoperability in Canada has been discussed for a number of years—in particular, how they pertain to first responders. This is a fundamental requirement for organizations to be able to work together, especially in a crisis or emergency situation. The lack of effective communications interoperability has been cited numerous times as a key reason behind poor emergency and security responses across the globe.

The RCMP, House of Commons Security Service, and Senate Protective Services all use different communication systems, managed by three distinct communication centres. Shockingly, the three main security forces in and around Parliament Hill did not have effective interoperable communications in place. This created unnecessary delays and fuelled confusion when building situational awareness of the unfolding emergency on October 22.

The House of Commons Incident Response Summary states that the Senate and House Protective Services have now combined their radio communications, but challenges remain with regard to communications interoperability with the RCMP. We should remember that merely having the capacity to communicate across agencies is not enough—you also need pre-existing relationships across organizations to make this work effectively when it matters.

  1. Strong Partnerships

The Ontario Provincial Police’s report highlighted the fact that the RCMP and the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) had an excellent working relationship that stood the test of the crisis on October 22. Both the RCMP and OPS have a history of joint exercises and training, allowing them to become familiar with each other’s operational procedures and build informal relationships. The OPP report points out, however, that this strong relationship was not present between the RCMP and the House of Commons Security Service and Senate Protective Services.

The use of training and exercises to build strong working relationships that can withstand a crisis was highlighted as a key reason behind the success of the Boston Marathon Bombing response, where multiple responding agencies worked together. It should never be assumed that just because organizations share a similar background, such as policing or security, they will immediately and effectively collaborate in a crisis. The events surrounding the response to the Elliot Lake Mall collapse demonstrated this.

Therefore, building strong partnerships beforehand remains absolutely crucial, especially in a shared security environment, such as Parliament Hill.

While there are a lot of recommendations in the recently published reviews and reports surrounding the events of October 22 on Parliament Hill, these are two linked issues that particularly stand out. Being able to effectively communicate across responding agencies and having the strong, trusted relationships in place that make it easy to work together are fundamental requirements for an effective emergency response.

This post originally appeared on The Conference Board of Canada’s website.

Digital humanitarians use technology to provide “…aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies.” Organized into global networks called Volunteer Technical Communities (VTCs), similar to online communities like Wikipedia, they congregate to provide skills in areas including information technology, emergency management (EM), mapping and communications during emergencies to facilitate response. They create maps, assess building damage, build missing person lists, monitor and aggregate data around crisis, among a plethora of other services. Offering the opportunity to volunteer prior to, during, or post a crisis, from the comfort of our your home, a time commitment to fit any schedule, and a cause and initiative for almost any skill set, digital humanitarianism is lowering the barriers to entry in the humanitarian space and sparking a movement on a global scale.

What is their impact? 

The impacts of VTCs are profound. As demonstrated in Haiti, for example, the crisis mapper community coordinated imagery and mapping activities. The disaster response portal, Sahana  geolocated 100 hospitals in 24 hours, and served as an organization registry, food cluster & request portal. Ushahidi  a crowdsourced crisis mapping platform, geolocated incoming messages e.g. trapped individuals, they developed an SMS shortcode for aid in collaboration with local telecom providers, and developed a translation and micro-tasking platform in creole. Humanity Road, developed the first online first aid reference material in Creole, mapped the cholera outbreak and disseminated educational materials through social media. And Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (HOT), deployed and trained over 500 Haitians on mapping and assessing techniques’

When is the best time to get involved?

The time is NOW! There is a misperception that the best time to volunteer is DURING an emergency. This is when we perceive the greatest sense of immediacy and find it easier to prioritize our latent desires to offer a helping hand. Unfortunately, this is the WORST time to volunteer. From under-resourced and overwhelmed organizations combined with competing priorities and sensitive timelines, there is often little to no time assign roles, responsibilities, train and integrate volunteers. In many cases, volunteers risk becoming a burden themselves. Instead, volunteer before the crisis hits. With enough time to get trained and integrated into an organization, volunteering before facilitates a smooth transition and more efficient emergency response. OR volunteer after an emergency during recovery. The timeline is often much longer, and the need for more resources coupled with a lowered sense of immediacy and media coverage proves difficult to solicit volunteer support during these times.

So, how do I get involved?

From crisis mapping services, to social media monitoring, to translation services, to social innovation, there are plenty of organizations that mobilize online around a crisis. And this list is constantly growing. Take some time to learn about the different opportunities out there and choose the initiative that best suits you.
For other volunteering opportunities, see the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) site.
This post also appeared on the Relief to Recovery website.