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‘Geeks without borders’ helping Haiti

(Map courtesy of New Scientist magazine)

(Map courtesy of New Scientist magazine)

By Joe Yovino

Texting, social networking and crowdsourcing are saving lives and helping in the relief effort in Haiti.

A story in the Jan. 30 issue of New Scientist magazine highlights how technology makes a large world small.

In Haiti’s case, it helped responders reach the people who needed them, it helped a hospital broadcast to Haitians and authorities it was open and accepting patients and, perhaps the most interesting result, it literally put Haiti on the map.

CrisisCommons, which itself grew from a simple tweet in 2009, has organized thousands of volunteers to improve the mapping of the earthquake-damaged region. In days, these “geeks without borders” from CrisisCommons were able to improve mapping of Port-au-Prince (see above).

On a map that once showed three main roads, volunteers used satellite images and information from people at the earthquake site to compile a detailed view of the region.

Why is that important you ask?

From the detailed map, government agencies, responders and anyone on the ground were able to find hospitals, triage centers and displacement camps for food and water. Officials on the ground uploaded the maps to mobile GPS units and were able to find victims still trapped in the rubble. The maps also helped engineers identify every collapsed building around Port-au-Prince, around 5,000 in total, according to the article.

And now the information gleaned from the map is being used by World Bank to assess the cost of rebuilding.

No doubt, technology will continue to play a vital role in the reconstruction of Haiti.

Joe Yovino is the Web editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, by cell, e-mail, snail mail, Wired Journalists, home phone, fax, whitepages.com, Coastal Muse podcast on iTunes, and carrier pigeon.

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