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Tech Community Steps Up For Haiti; More Volunteers Needed Saturday

Screen shot of Tradui translation app

Opening screen of Tradui, a downloadable Creole-English dictionary now available for Android phones and coming soon to the iPhone. Brendan Lim/CrisisCommons.org hide caption

itoggle caption Brendan Lim/CrisisCommons.org

It's been just over one week since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. As relief organizations rushed to the scene and ordinary people opened their wallets to support the disaster response, hundreds of techies from around the world have also stepped up to offer their unique skills to these efforts.

In the five years since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, more and more software developers, designers and bloggers have offered their services to a wide range of relief projects. I've been involved with many of them, and am helping out with Haiti efforts as well. This time around, much of the activity has come together around a virtual project known as CrisisCommons, which last year held an Barcamp-like event called CrisisCamp, challenging techies to brainstorm ways to build digital tools that support relief efforts. The CrisisCommons volunteers kicked into high gear last week, wasting no time in organizing a series of CrisisCamps last Saturday in half a dozen cities around the US.

I participated in the DC CrisisCamp, hosted by the Sunlight Foundation, and it was a remarkable event. Nearly 200 of us gathered over the course of nine hours to work on a variety of projects, such as GPS-powered mobile maps of Haiti with the latest satellite imagery and incident reports, to an English-Creole dictionary that can be downloaded to iPhones and Android phones. The app, called Tradui (translate in Creole), is currently available in the Android Market and is waiting to be approved for the iPhone app store.

Meanwhile, I've pulled together a team of information architects and researchers to start creating a wiki that serves as a sort of Yellow Pages for disaster and emergency preparedness resources that can be deployed for any disaster. We did something similar for the 2008 hurricane season on a wiki called HurricaneWiki.org. This new wiki will allow us to document resources related to Haiti, but also allow us to add new sections easily if a tornado were to strike Kansas, for example, or if dengue fever broke out in Southeast Asia.

The crisis response team at Google has taken the lead in unifying all the various collections of missing persons lists, from Facebook and news Web sites to the Red Cross. And it's already getting use - the Haitian embassy is utilizing this database as a tool for coordinating their efforts back home. A list of the various projects can be found at CrisisCommons.org.

Despite all the work that's been done already, there's still a lot left for us to do — so much so that we're organizing another round of CrisisCamps this coming Saturday. NPR will host CrisisCamp DC, and we'll also have events in Boston, Denver, LA, Miami, New York, Portland and Silicon Valley. Even more cities may organize their own camps — I'll post updates as they happen.

It's not just techies who are coming to these events — we're also looking for people who are really good at doing online research, for example, or anyone who speaks either French or Creole. Even if you don't have any specific skills and want to help out with event logistics, we can probably put you to work. So if you're free this Saturday and live in a city hosting a camp, please consider participating. Even if you can't attend, there may be ways you can volunteer online. Visit CrisisCommons.org to learn more about the projects.

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