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August 30 2012


Post-Disaster, We Can Do More Than 'Feed It to Fix It'

Did something go wrong? Bring a casserole. While the type of barbeque may vary regionally, if you're standing near storm damage, there's likely a home-cooked meal on the way. Following a disaster, competent ladies fill church and school kitchens, turning out hundreds of sandwiches. Restaurants donate buffet trays of wings and lasagna. Community organizations host spaghetti dinner after spaghetti dinner, feeding survivors
and volunteers alike. Quite simply, we live in a casserole culture, and we can harness this tendency for a better local response.

Why, exactly, our knee-jerk reaction as a culture is to bake a pie in the face of
unthinkable loss, is anyone's guess. I have a theory that our Norman Rockwell tendencies are linked directly to what we are told we can and cannot do after a disaster.

'feed it to fix it'

Unless you happened to keep the FEMA National Incident Management Framework around for bedtime reading, you probably have no clue who is in charge of what on the ground after a disaster. Even if you do know what is supposed to happen, the practice is often far different than the plan. As an unaffiliated volunteer, you're often sent home, told off, or simply not answered when you try to help.


But food -- that makes sense. The Red Cross won't accept home-cooked donations, but local churches will. You're greeted with thanks instead of confusion if you drop off sandwiches and Gatorade at a worksite. We, as a culture, have assumed permission to feed during a disaster, and we get after it. Think: Studs Terkel meets Paula Deen.

I, like you, love a good plate of mashed potatoes. But our "feed it to fix it" tendencies right now fall short of our potential to help out at the community level. Here are a few suggestions for building a better community recovery:

Use your skills

Yes, you can cook. But are you also a lawyer? Bilingual? Great with computers? Those skills are every bit as necessary to the recovery as Dunkin Donuts -- survivors will need tax advice, translation and resource management help.

Use your head

The difference between lasagna and labor is that it is currently a painful process to volunteer skills through large, regional organizations. Your community can independently plan to share skills and resources before a disaster -- just agree upon a system beforehand.

Use your leaders

Your emergency management department and city leadership can use your help. Can you start a Community Emergency Response team? Would you agree to help the EM run social media during a disaster? Get in touch and plan ahead!

Use this recipe: the singular best recipe for chocolate chip recovery cookies I have ever

Catastrophe Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 6 to 7 ounces of chocolate chips
  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl.
  • Add the vanilla and egg, keep on mixing.
  • Mix dry ingredients together, then add slowly to the large bowl of wet ingredients.
  • If you're patient, refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours.
  • If not, just go ahead and bake those cookies for 11-13 minutes.
  • Distribute to sweaty workers, affected families, stressed organizers, and your own family.

P.S. Check out our work in action this week at http://IsaacGulf.Recovers.org.

Caitria O'Neill is the CEO of Recovers.org. She received a B.A. degree in government from Harvard University in 2011. She has worked for Harvard Law Review and the U.S. State Department, and brings legal, political and editorial experience to the team. O'Neill has completed the certificate programs for FEMA's National Incident Management System 700 and 800, and Incident Command Systems 100 and 200. She has also worked with Emergency Management Directors, regional hospital and public health organizations and regional Homeland Security chapters to develop partnerships and educate stakeholders about local organization and communication following disasters.

August 27 2011


In the eye of Ms. #Irene - mobile technology in times of crisis

As the eastern half of the U.S. settles in for a hurricane-soaked weekend at the conclusion of a week that has already included an earthquake, it’s worth a look at both the challenges and opportunities that exist for mobile technologies in times of crisis. 

paidContent ::  #Irene - The challenge: As we saw earlier this week with the Virginia earthquake that shook an enormous region, many people’s first instinct following a terrible shock is to let loved ones know that everything is fine. But when everyone in a given area tries to make a voice call at the same time, it’s extremely easy for cellular networks to become overwhelmed, which, of course, can also happen to landline networks. 

The opportunity: Data networks, by comparison, held up fine in Japan during its horrible experience with an earthquake and tsunami.

Tom Krazit, paidContent, lists some more instances in which mobile can fall down, but where someone able to overcome the challenge could reap rewards even when the sun is shining.

Continue to read Tom Krazit, paidcontent.org

July 11 2011


Japan - A record of the disaster - Google uses Street View tech in Kesennuma

New York Times :: An oddly equipped car made its way last week through the rubble in this tsunami-stricken port city. On the roof: an assembly of nine cameras creating 360-degree panoramic digital images of the disaster zone to archive damage. It is one of the newest ways that Google, a Web giant worldwide but long a mere runner-up in Japan’s online market, has harnessed its technology to raise its brand and social networking identity in this country. 

[Shigeru Sugawara, mayor of Kesennuma:] I’d like them to record Kesennuma’s streets now. Then I’d like them to come back, when the city is like new again, and show the world the new Kesennuma.

Google is using its Street View technology in Kesennuma and elsewhere to make a record of the disaster while tracking reconstruction efforts. In a country with the world’s second-largest online advertising market, after the United States, Google is finally winning new friends.

Continue to read Hiroko Tabuchi, www.nytimes.com

June 12 2011


Fukushima Japan - Delayed recovery dampens evacuees' hopes to return

The Yomiuri Shimbun Survey :: The majority of the evacuees have abandoned hope of returning to their hometowns due to delays in recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The Yomiuri Shimbun surveyed 500 people who evacuated from their homes because of the earthquake, tsunami or the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A combined 47 percent of evacuees from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures hoped to return to their hometowns, down from 65 percent one month after the disaster.

Continue to read www.yomiuri.co.jp

May 29 2011


Japan - Radio, TV, newspapers, Twitter? Media's role in responding to earthquake disaster

Daily Yomiuri :: Professor Shiro Segawa, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, conducted a preliminary survey about the media and its role in responding to the earthquake and tsunami disaster March 11. He and his research team called on two shelters and interviewed 23 victims in total. The main question to them was which form of media—newspapers, TV, the Internet (PC or cellular phones), or radio—they used a frequently right after the earthquake, one to two weeks after it, and one month after it, respectively.

Findings. On the whole, the most common answer was radio immediately after the earthquake (car radios or battery-operated radios) and newspapers after one week since the earthquake. It is generally thought that Twitter and other social media have played an active role in responding to this earthquake disaster. This only seems to be the case, however, in areas where the Internet was available and without power outage.

Study and findings: continue to read Shiro Segawa, www.yomiuri.co.jp


May 28 2011


Brian Stelter, NYT - Disaster reporting, Twitter's strength and "what I've learned in Joplin"

GigaOM :: In his Tumblr post Brian Stelter, New York Times reporter, describes how he was woefully under-prepared for reporting on the aftermath of the recent tornado in Joplin, Missouri, U.S. It was also his first disaster for the newspaper.

Among other things, he didn’t even bring a pen, and his shoes got soaked within hours of being in the tornado-struck region. On top of those issues, Stelter also writes about how the cellular telephone system was almost unusable because of the damage, so he resorted to sending virtually everything via text message, and to posting his observations about the effects of the disaster on Twitter.

What can we learn?

Continue to read Mathew Ingram, gigaom.com

Brian Stelter on Tumblr thedeadline.tumblr.com

Brian Stelter on Twitter www.twitter.com/brianstelter

May 27 2011


Japan - NTT DoCoMo allows to unlock new phones in response to March 11th

Japantrends ::  A minor mobile revolution occurred, following the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, when NTT DoCoMo officially announced it would allow SIM unlocking on its new phones, for a small fee. For the first time in Japan consumers see a possibility of a separation between the phone and the payment plan.

Continue to read William Andrews, www.japantrends.com

March 29 2011


Mobilizing online communities in the Face of Disaster: Tips from NetSquared Local Organizers

On the 12th of March, one day after the tragic earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan Ichi - Hiroyasu Ichikawa - the NetSquared Local organizer from Tokyo sent an e-mail to our NetSquared Local Organizer listserve asking for the best practices for mobilizing online communities in the time of a disaster. In the weeks that have followed, Ichi’s e-mail provoked a series of responses from all over the world. In this post, we hope to voice many of the tools, resources, and tactics that have been shared, in hopes of encouraging others around the world to get involved with the digital relief efforts.


In response to Ichi, Paula Brantner from the Washington DC Local group suggested taking advantage of the international project called Crisis Commons that sprung into action after the recent Haiti earthquake. Crisis Commons is specifically designed to crowd source the technology needed to leverage communications in the event of a disaster, it helps in finding volunteers and is summing up all of the hand-on actions designed to support the cause.


Amy Sample Ward from the New York group has followed Paula’s e-mail with further suggestions on how and where to aggregate information. One of the online spaces she mentioned was the Google Crisis Response page where you can find the latest information about the crisis as well as make simple donations to the organizations involved in supporting the efforts in Japan. She has also provided the link to the Wikipedia page devoted to the 2011 Tokyo earthquake and tsunami. This resource is an important point of reference for everyone interested in the latest events related to the tragedy, as it has been visited and edited by a lot of people and therefore appears high in the search results.

Shufang Tsai from the Taiwan group shared information from one of her community members about an experience with the previous Chilean earthquake that occurred in 2010. The ideas that came from the Chile earthquake experience included setting up a situation map using Ushahidi on the crodmap.com site and asking the volunteers to search through the media news and put them all together in an easily accessible Google Doc. The information could be then added to the Ushahidi map. Other suggestions of the community member in Japan included the usage of the Tweak the Tweet to collect the information from the twitter and facebook. He has also highlighted the importance of keeping the volunteers data saved somewhere (i.e. a Google Doc).

Sarah Schacht from the group that meets in Seattle has put Ichi in touch with the representatives from Crisis Commons and suggested he should list himself at the Honshu Quake Activities @ Crisis Commons wiki. Sarah has also forwarded his information to the Web of Change  to attract tech volunteers.

Jonathan Eyler-Werve from the Chicago group added another wiki link to the conversation – the example of how the source has been used to aggregate the information about the Libyan uprising.
Shufang then summed up the online response information and sent links to (among others):

  • Open source disaster management system Sahana (in Japanese language only)

and to various online sources that work with maps such as:


  • ESRI distaster reponse

The next day (13th of March) Ichi sent us the result of this facebook group work (in Japanese language only) as well as a link to the articles he has been writing (in Japanese language only). He also highlighted the importance of learning the lesson from all of the social media crisis responses and planning a long term strategy for the digital curation in case of disaster.


In a response to Ichi JD Lasica from the group in San Francisco shared links to the interviews with Andy Carvin who had been instrumental in setting up the Hurricane Information Center and the subsequent Crisis Camp for Haiti:

Rachel Weidinger from TechSoup Global sent the group links to resources and recovery guides available on the techsoup.org site - Disaster Planning and Recovery Toolkit.


JD Godchaux from NiJel - a community mapping platform seconded Shufangs’ suggestion to work with Crisis Mappers and encouraged Ichi to join the CrisisMappers list. The project was launched locally on March 11th by a Japanese member of the Open Street Map (OSM) community. The crisis map is being supported by onsite volunteers (mainly in Tokyo) along with a group of students (mainly Japanese) out of Boston lead by The Fletcher School. JD also mentioned another instance of Ushahidi to track radiation levels from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.  


The last comment in the threat came from Ichi, who shared the link to the socialmedia dashboard on Netvibes set by him to catch up the current event. Netvibes is a free web site that allows users to set up their own customized start page composed of "modules" which can contain a wide variety of information from dozens and dozens of other sites. It is a great tool to fetch, store and manage various web sources and make the process transparent and easy to access for everyone.


The entire conversation happened within the 72 hours from the Japanese earthquake and wasn’t stopped when the radiation threat became an issue, nor was it paused by the power outrage caused by the disaster.  As the Japanese tragedy proves the role of social media in times of a disaster remains a subject of an ongoing conversation. It highlights the importance of connecting with like-minded people to pool the efforts and delegate responsibilities in the times of crisis. We hope that this post will help others who would like to contribute to the relief of the Japanese tragedy and other disasters that will inevitably happen in the future.


Do you have any other tips or tools for Ichi or anyone else who is interested in using the web to provide digital disaster relief? If so, please share your suggestions in the comments below!

October 20 2010


Haiti Earthquake Relief - Solar Powered Satellite Telemedicine & Disaster Management

In two recent earthquake relief deployments to Haiti, HELP provided solar powered satellite communications and situational awareness for search and rescue teams, mobile medical clinics, emergency telemedicine, and for other non-governmental relief agency response.

read more

March 10 2010


Help Link People After the Earthquake in Chile

In some ways, the impact of the recent earthquake in Chile wasn't as immediately obvious as that of the earthquake in Haiti. President Michelle Bachelet initially refused foreign aid, but as the death toll has grown, the need for an international response has become obvious. This week, the American Red Cross increased its original response pledge to a quarter of a million dollars.

read more

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