Through the end of March and first half of April, Standby Task Force volunteers engaged in a crisis-mapping and help-desk service initiated by the Innovation Unit of Presidencia del Consejo de Ministros in collaboration with Centro de Operaciones de Emergencia Nacional (COEN) under the in Peru Civil Defence. Other partners in the project were the local volunteer effort “EmergenciaPerú”, besides Ushahidi, DevsTec and Kitum.
The #UnaSolaFuerza website was designed to allow the public to send urgent messages on their needs in the disaster, to support the response of emergency agencies. The civil society were invited to create reports directly on the platform, accompanied by photos, videos or other relevant information. Alternatively, a short code SMS service and a dedicated Twitter hashtag #SOSCOEN were available for submitting messages. The reports would be processed and made available for responding units.
During the development of the platform, SBTF acted as advisors to the project. We pointed to our contacts in the region as well as to our contacts in the humanitarian technical community. During the coming days, the project developed; The local mapping communities were engaged to join the government effort. Local, technical competence was included, and a new instance of the Ushahidi platform was installed to host the integration of a short-code SMS service. SBTF Core Team provided assistance in the setup, creating workflows and developing the categorization setup for the platform.
Once the infrastructure was in place, SBTF called its global volunteer base to process what was expected to become a massive influx of messages. Within 36 hours, 50 volunteers from all around the globe had signed up, ready for action. An additional 30 volunteers joined over the next days.
At the time, there was an expectation of massive rain to fall during April, possibly followed by floods, landslides and destruction. But the rain moved northwards, hitting villages in Colombia with devastating effect, and the loss of lives.
A massive flow of messages to the #UnaSolaFuerza platform never came. The twitter sphere contained scarce amounts of actionable information, and few text messages were sent. We noticed that the majority of our volunteers dropped out due to the lack of information to process. Still, a group of dedicated SBTF volunteers kept feeding the platform and kept the action going 24/7. The engaged volunteers were monitoring media outlets, social media channels and granulating data from other sources – adding updates to the crisis-map. Urgent information was forwarded to local units in the affected districts, who took action based on the reports.
Several experiences from this activation gave valuable insights to add to the knowledge base of the SBTF. Maybe the most important is the ability to work in a dual-language context. We also noted workflow related points, which will help in our constant search for light-weight procedures to deploy within hours when the needs are there. We are working on the latter.
The activation eventually turned into a “standby” operation, where a small group of volunteers was monitoring the incoming messages, scanned social media channels and online media resources for updated information. We formally didn’t step down until April 20th, when the online information space of actionable information had cooled down.
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