Digital Life

Social Media Among Haiti's First Responders

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In the aftermath of natural disasters, first responders are partnering with software developers and other tech experts to help in humanitarian efforts. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks to NPR's social media manager Andy Carvin about hacking events called "Crisis Camps," taking place in Washington, D.C., and other cities Saturday.


Our coverage of the situation in Haiti continues at, where youll find photo galleries and news of the latest security and relief efforts. And as aid workers flock to Haiti, the high-tech community has mobilized as well. Theyre banding together to create digital tools in support of the relief efforts.

Today, hundreds of techies are volunteering at marathon hacking events theyre calling crisis camps. One of these camps is taking place this morning here at NPRs headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Andy Carvin is NPR senior strategist for social media. Hes one of the event organizers and he joins us here in the studio. Andy, welcome.

ANDY CARVIN: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: So, first, tell me how crisis camps came together and what it is exactly you guys are doing?

CARVIN: Well, theres a history of bloggers and software developers getting together in times of crisis going back at least five years now. Thanks to the growth of social networking and Twitter. weve suddenly started to mobilize in such a way that its become a lot easier to get people together in person to develop software that can hopefully help relief efforts.

So, for example, when we started this about a week and a half ago, one of the projects that was developed was to create an iPhone app that would allow people to translate Creole to English and English back to Creole. And its also available on Google Android phones.

There are also efforts that have started and involved software companies like Google, for example. Ive been working with them, among other folks, to try to figure out a way of connecting all the various missing persons databases because the Red Cross, of course, has the big missing persons database but lots of blogs and news Web sites have started collecting list of missing people as well. So, Google has stepped up and actually figured out a way to connect all of these things together and hopefully help find some people in the process.

CORNISH: Can you talk about other ways that this is going to benefit Haitians directly?

CARVIN: When it comes to creating tools that are mostly online, we have to acknowledge the fact that only about 10 percent of the Haitian population is online. So, most of these tools are being designed in terms of assisting aid workers and other agencies that are down there. Having said that, there are things that we think are directly benefiting Haitians such as the translation tools that the aid workers are using.

There have also been attempts to invite many, many hundreds of volunteers to go through huge collections of photos of people being pulled out of the rubble or people being seen on the streets of Haiti and actually trying to identify who they are. And weve actually started to have some success with that as well.

So, the benefits arent always direct toward Haitians, but its certainly helping the overall relief efforts.

CORNISH: Andy Carvin is NPR senior strategist for social media. Andy, thanks for being with us.

CARVIN: Thanks for having me.

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