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Technology in Crisis Response

How it Will Help in the Near Future

Google hosted the annual Humanitarian ICT Forum to brainstorm on better ways of assisting those in need. Technology is changing every day and taking the humanitarian world with it through that change. Due to the numerous innovations, compassionate humanitarians can provide aid to those in need at remote locations. In terms of technology, there’s much in store for the near future.

Crisis response and technology

UN agencies, NGOs, start-ups, tech, and financial institutions gathered in Mountain View, California to discuss the future role of technology in the field of crisis response. When a natural disaster strikes, there is an immediate and in most cases, a critical need for crisis response. Humanitarian organizations must act that very moment. They can profit from using technology to respond timely, more effectively and efficiently. The Humanitarian ICT Forum is organized to discuss important emerging topics in the field of technology and crisis response. This includes digital payments, data analysis, and community engagement.

OCHA, or the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, formulated eight takeaways from the forum:

  1. Apply the right technology for the context
    WeRobots co-founder Patrick Meier: “Technology doesn’t have to be sexy, shiny or expensive. It just has to work.” They found that out the hard way when they developed a $40,000 drone to deliver anti-venom to a remote region. After nine months of research and testing, the drone didn’t work! They resorted to a tiny beaten-up cheap drone instead. It took 35 minutes to successfully deliver the anti-venom.
  2. Business models can work — even in an emergency
    Responders and their partners need to consider developing sustainable business models to have a lasting impact. An excellent example can be found in Chad. UNHCR, Google and O3b Networks partnered to connect remote refugee camps through satellite connections for wifi, solar chargers to extend power supply more cheaply and training on how to use the internet.
  3. Language will help drive the participation revolution
    Google’s neural translation machines are being trained so quickly that languages such as Farsi will come online faster than we have ever dreamed of. Both Google and Microsoft are working to eliminate language barriers by developing their respective platforms. “Now we need to develop a common platform to share data, glossaries and terminologies”, says Rebecca Petras, Deputy Director of Translators Without Borders.
  4. Preparation pays off
    Setting up agreements with preferred suppliers, managing risk and identifying the right revenue models, all take time and have to be done in advance. In crisis response, there is no room for surprises. Mobile network operators and tech firms need to team up with humanitarians to map mobile and connectivity coverage gaps in high-risk areas long before crisis occur.
  5. The Digital ID is on its way
    When people are on the run, they often lose access to important identification documents. They may never have had official identification to begin with. “Getting there will require working through some complex challenges first”, stresses Dakota Gruener, Director of ID 2020. These challenges include how to make digital IDs portable across borders as people are displaced, navigating national legislation over prevalent data and privacy issues.
  6. Evolutionary over revolutionary change
    Change is usually incremental, and investors need to be in it for the long haul. The benefits of this approach are proved by Ushaihidi, an open source project which allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile. Motivated by its impact, they were able to gradually expand its portfolio of new digital solutions — RollCall, Crowdmap, SwiftRiver and others — because its principal investor, Cisco, respected the importance of funding evolutionary innovation to solve new problems.
  7. People need good reasons to share data
    Humanitarian data sharing is getting better every day and Humanitarian Data Exchange, or HDX, has played a fundamental role in this commendable progress by setting up a common platform for practitioners, analysts, journalists and others to use. Take the Ebola fight in Liberia. To track the disease’s path, the Liberian Ministry of Health worked with USAID to create a WhatsApp two-way messaging exchange with 800 health workers and community mobilizers who were undertaking contact tracing of Ebola cases.

Technological innovations make it increasingly possible to make immediate changes to your itinerary. Your travel schedule can be altered in just a matter of minutes if not seconds. We make sure we can provide the flexibility humanitarian travel requires. It’s a challenge we’ve proved to conquer time and time again, and we love to do it for you. We believe our world is a better place when compassion can travel where it is needed most. Feel free to contact us anytime should you have any questions, we are happy to help. 

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