Sahana blogged by Gartner’s Roberta Witty

The Gartner Group”s Roberta Witty recently blogged on Sahana in “Sahana: A Free, Open Source Disaster Relief Management System” following a conference call I participated in with her this past Tuesday along with fellow Sahana transition board members Brent Woodworth and Mifan Careem.  It’s a nice write-up from an influential source – the Gartner Group is the premier analysis and research authority in the IT industry – that I hope will help spread the word about Sahana’s benefits and bring more contributors into the community from the emergency management field.  An excerpt follows:

Sometimes the best things in life are still free, and good news can come from surprising sources. On Tuesday, Rick DeLotto and I were briefed by the Sahana Project, an award winning, free and open source, web-based disaster relief management system designed to “Help alleviate human suffering and help save lives through the efficient use of IT during a disaster”. It was first developed by the open source community, and is maintained by volunteers, with support from IBM, Google, NSF and Sida. You should run right over to Sahana and get a look at it, tell your friends, and spread the word. It might be just what your home town needs to keep YOU safe.

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Off to Sri Lanka for Sahana 2009 Conference

Tomorrow night, I am leaving for a week in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to attend the first annual Sahana Software for Disaster Management ConferenceSahana is a Free and Open Source Disaster Management system. It is a web based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, tracking camps effectively between Government groups, the civil society (NGOs) and the victims themselves.

I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about Sahana as I believe that effective management of information is an important part of Living Prepared™.  And Sahana, while intended for use more by organizations than individuals, is a powerful tool for effectively managing information about disasters.

Sahana has been used successfully in response to the tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2005, in response to the Kashmir earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, for the Southern Leyte Mudslide Disaster in the Philippines in 2006, for the Yogjarkata Earthquake in Indonesia in 2006, for the Peru Ica Earthquake in 2007; for the Sichuan Earthquake in China in 2007, and implemented by the City of New York for managing their Coastal Storm Plan in 2007.  More information about Sahana can be found here.

I helped design the very first version of Sahana that was coded by the open source community in Sri Lanka in the weeks following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and am personally very proud of how far Sahana has come in the past five years.  I will be speaking about the history of humanitarian software and the challenges and benefits associated with it at the conference.  I will post a link to my presentation and paper when available.

Sahana has drawn interest from or been implemented by many professional emergency management response agencies around the world including FEMA, the City of New York, and the governments of Australia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia and China.  Several major international organizations and UN agencies  are looking at how Sahana can help coordinate information needs for relief agencies, and small charitable organizations around the world are already benefitting from using it.

Sahana can be implemented effectively at the local level for collecting lists of missing persons, to register recipients of aid at a shelter, to organize volunteers, to manage an inventory of disaster supplies, and to help track and match needs requests with available offers of assistance.  Anyone working with a community service organization could probably find utility in Sahana.

As an open source software project, it is most happy running on Linux, but also runs on Windows, Mac OSX, Solaris and as a portable applet (Windows XP) and as a Live-CD (Linux-based).  If you enjoy hacking around with applications and are interested in disaster and emergency management, you might enjoy getting involved with Sahana as a user.   You are welcome to join our mailing lists.  You can download the software from the Sourceforge CVS repository and find lots of instructions for installing and configuring Sahana on your computers, whatever they may be.

If you are a student in open source programming, you may be very interested to know that Sahana has been again selected to participate in the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) for 2009.  Sahana was selected as 1 of 150 out of about 400 groups who applied this year. This is a strong testament to the reputation that Sahana has built up of the last few years and the great success that we have had as part of this program previously.

If you are a student who is interested in participating in the GSoC this year, we would encourage you to review our ideas page and our student guidelines on the Sahana Wiki.

Once you have reviewed that information, we invite you to discuss any ideas that you may have on the Sahana maindev mailing list or via IRC (#sahana on Freenode or via http://sahana.lk/chat).  My handle on IRC is mprutsalis.

Twitter Feeds for Emergency Alerts & Preparedness Information

A friend has been bugging me to micro-blog on Twitter for some time now.  I resisted for a while as I find it difficult to keep up with updating my status and activities already on Facebook and LinkedIn.  I finally signed up to better be able to understand Twitter’s use in support of the Sahana Disaster Management Software project, which I am involved with as a member of its Project Management Committee and long-standing contributor.  Yesterday, I was playing around with a couple of plug-ins – twitterfeed pushes my blog posts automatically to my twitter feed (very cool); a Facebook plug-in pulls my twitter status to update my Facebook status (also very cool); and a third and final one – Pidgin-Twitter plug-in – makes my twitter feed readable on my Pidgin instant messaging client (unbelievably cool).  [Follow the instructions here on how to set this up].

Somewhere along the way, I noticed someone else was following ReliefWeb, which is an information service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA).  So I started following the ReliefWeb twitter feed.  After a little research, I realized that a number of official sources of emergency and disaster information push information to their Twitter feeds.  I became obsessed.

I searched for “FEMA” and found a few official feeds.  I searched for “emergency” and found a bunch more.  “Redcross” led to a number of hits – one from the National Red Cross and a ton of local chapters.  Then the floodgates really started to open.  See, a lot of these twitter feeds from government and non-governmental organizations follow other “official” sources of emergency alerts and information.  I am up to a list of over 40 that I am now following – including one from BreakingNewsNY that pushes out up to 500 alerts per day about incidents in New York City – that is monitored by FDNY and other public safety agencies in the City.

Being better informed is absolutely a better way of Living Prepared™.

Integrated into my instant messaging client (Pidgin), I now have a scrolling feed of emergency and disaster preparedness public information notices, as well as emergency alerts and notifications.  It flashes when a new one comes in, and there is an audio alert as well (that can be turned off).  It’s the perfect solution for me as I’ve always struggled to have to check information websites (a pull system); and the e-mail notifications that I get (a push system) clog my e-mail folders (where they are filed automatically by rules).

A desktop applet has always been the solution, but most – whether a google desktop widget or simply adding a web-page to my desktop – I have always found lacking as either they remain in the background and I am unable to quickly view them on top of other applications – or they consume desktop space by occupying a bar perpetually on the right or left or top or bottom of my screen.  All dissatisfying solutions that I’ve done away with after a short while.  An instant messaging client solution is perfect for me.  It provides visual and auditory notification of new alerts and messages, which is useful when I am following a situation closely, but I can also turn down when I need to.

For outgoing updates, I have the following paths to update my twitter feed.  I can post to this blog, and it will update twitter.  I can also update my twitter status through a browser; through sending an instant message from Pidgin (it using gtalk – googletalk protocol/XMPP); through sending an e-mail to a twittermail address; through sending an SMS message from my smartphone; or through the browser on my Smartphone (whose homepage I set to my twitter homepage so I can pick up all my alerts).  I think that is pretty cool.

And by posting to Twitter, I am also updating my Facebook page; and you will also note that you can also view the Living Prepared and Globaliist twitter feeds through the widget on the right of this page.  In coming weeks, this site will be launching a number of feeds to help you be better informed about emergency and disaster preparedness – aggregated from official government and non-governmental sources.

This is the short version of this story; a longer one with step-by-step instructions will follow soon in a longer post, but I wanted to get this out to get you thinking about the possibilities.

Here is something you can help me with – I am looking to compile a list of relevant twitter, blogs and RSS feeds from governmental and non-governmental sources related to disaster preparedness, as well as alerts and warnings issued at actual time of an event (such as tornado warning, earthquake notifications, and hurricane tracking).  I’m going to organize these into separate RSS and twitter feeds that you will be able to subscribe to and follow.

In a few days, I will post a list of the feeds I have identified so far, and would be glad to receive lists of any others from you.

And I’ll do some quality control and weeding out before making any aggregated feed public.  There’s nothing worse than having an unqualified source mixed in and creating confusion.  All postings from Living Prepared™ will be clearly identified with the source – and you will always be able to look them up from this site.