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Texts and Tweets Saving Lives in Haiti

As relief efforts on the earthquake-ravaged island of Haiti continue, social media and mobile technology are playing an increasingly important role in assisting rescue workers. While millions of people have been texting monetary donations from abroad, many others in the eye of the disaster are using texts and tweets to communicate with volunteers, and to help them save lives.

With even the island's most basic communicative infrastructure destroyed, people have turned to their cell phones as the primary way to notify rescue workers of dangerous situations or of neighbors in need. Organizations like the nonprofit Energy for Opportunity have descended upon the island to help facilitate communication via text, which can be difficult in a situation where language barriers between international relief workers and Haitians can render some SMS indecipherable. According to Rob Munro, who helps process and translate texts in multiple languages, texts flow into the organization "every five seconds in busy times," and "every 10 minutes overnight." Wired has compiled a few texts that have been sent to rescuers. As you can see, they run the gamut from urgent calls for assistance, to requests that family members or loved ones be contacted.

Other organizations are using different means of communication to coordinate humanitarian efforts. The Sahana Software Foundation, for example, has initiated a disaster relief portal, which serves as a sort of catch-all information directory for the various organizations on the ground. Sahana President and CEO Mark Prutsalis told Wired that the system receives requests through two channels: one via text, and the other through Twitter. Sahana has also developed an annotated map to show what relief efforts are being undertaken in which geographic areas.

Both the horrifying destruction and the humanitarian crisis that Haiti has experienced since the earthquake are of a scale that few could've ever imagined. A country that had already been at the bottom of nearly every economic and human development indicator in the world just got sucker-punched by a natural disaster that would've sent even the most developed nation reeling. The outreach and outpouring of aid from the global community, however, has been just as overwhelming. It's good to know that a few people are using technology to its full potential, and helping coordinate efforts to slowly get Haiti back on its feet -- and, eventually, moving forward. [From: Wired]

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