Three months ago a devastating earthquake hit Haiti and within hours people from all over the world jumped at the chance to lend a helping hand. One such person was Tufts University graduate student Patrick Meier. Meier built an on line “map” designed to point out exactly where a person in need was using the longitudinal and latitudinal points of that person’s location. Meier got the idea from a company in Kenya called Ushahidi, who used modern, popular technology such as Twitter, text messages and emails to find people in need during an election crisis in 2007. Since then, Ushahidi has proved to be invaluable to crisis management all over the world.
Meier had previously done work with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and when he learned of Ushahidi’s efforts he immediately campaigned to get them funding in the United States. He is now a member of Ushahidi’s board and one of the cofounders of the International Network of Crisis Mappers.
Ushahidi Haiti began in Meier’s dorm room and at the “peak” of the project he had over 300 students working with him. One of the biggest struggles the group faced was translating the text messages they were receiving through their own short code emergency text line. In order to translate the messages a doctoral student at Stanford University found over 1000 people from all over the world who could speak Haitian Creole and translate the texts.