A Day in the Life at Humanity Road

What do Chicago, Libya, Alabama, and Montenegro have to do with each other? All were locations where an Ushahidi map was launched and Humanity Road provided support. This is a day in the life of Humanity Road – March 10, 2011.

On this day five years ago, Humanity Road volunteers were heavily engaged in supporting digital humanitarian work in Libya, the USA and Europe. Working around-the-clock, Humanity Road joined a cross-organizational effort and led a Media Monitoring team that contributed reports to an Ushahidi map of the Libyan crisis for the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It was the first time UNOCHA tapped digital volunteers.

The digital humanitarian team that responded was dubbed a Standby Task Force, and included CrisisCommons, Humanity Road, ICT4Peace, Open Street Map and MapAction. This work catalyzed the formation of the Digital Humanitarian Network in April of 2012.

Every day, Humanity Road volunteers are online monitoring and standing by to respond to disaster. As the Libya effort was beginning, Humanity Road volunteers were just wrapping up their activation for a catastrophic winter storm in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune launched a Ushahidi crisis map; #Chisnow Map to track requests and offers to shovel snow after a monster storm dumped over twenty inches of snow on the ground.

When incoming reports began to reflect urgent needs, Crisis Commons and Humanity Road reached out to collaborate with a local Citizens Emergency Response team (CERT) to provide assistance. The #ChiSnow map was groundbreaking as it was the first time Humanity Road collaborated with a local team to dispatch on the ground while remotely monitoring a crisis map. We coordinated with Crisis Commons and the local Citizens Emergency Response team (CERT) by using a Skype working group. Humanity Road Volunteers read through the map incidents daily for urgent needs and relayed them to the CERT team for resolution.

Libya Crisis Map and Chicago Snow Crisis Map from March 2011

Kudos and shout out to Deb Shaddon and Heather Blanchard from Crisis Commons who also supported the Chicago Tribune Crisismap technology needs. While small in scale, the work of the Chicago Tribune Crisis Map was a milestone in creating repeatable processes for local/remote coordination and collaboration. The response also inspired Tuscaloosa News to launch their own Crisismap just one month later in April 2011 after a devastating tornado struck the area.

Humanity Road volunteers activated to partner with Tuscaloosa News and the University of Alabama to provide around-the-clock support for their map. The newspaper lost much of its ability to report the news, but they turned to social media and technology and won a Pulitzer for their response.

Also, on March 10, 2011 while our media monitoring teams were actively responding to the Chicago and Libya events, we were supporting our first European multinational social media exercise European Command Exercise 24. The event was in progress in social media and being spearheaded from Stuttgart Germany. The scenario was a large earthquake and tsunami that strikes Montenegro.

We had no idea that within 24 hours our scenario would become reality when a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. After this engagement, we made a commitment to continue supporting preparedness exercises involving Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) work and went on to provide key multinational exercise development support for the U.S. Pacific Command in their annual Pacific Endeavor exercise. In 2014 the exercise scenario was an earthquake in Nepal, which significantly contributed to the Nepal earthquake response in 2015.

This has been a snapshot in the day of digital humanitarian work and how our actions carry through to improve the future of humanitarian work. This snapshot reflects the dynamic changes that volunteers united in service can make. Innovation and change are born from need and opportunity and it’s the small moments that create change. Never assume you are too small to make a difference. Every big thing is made of many small moments and acts. We just need to pay attention and step up to the plate when opportunity knocks.