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Disaster in Haiti: getting involved with H-FOSS projects PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 September 2009 17:25

Since the massive earthquake in Haiti, Informatics and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been proven as an exceptional tool for rescue workers and aid organizations on-site, for tracking missing persons, mapping accessible routes, managing resources and coordinating efforts. The Sahana and SahanaPy projects are a perfect example of such efforts. It is a web-based, portable and highly configurable content management platform, written in PHP (Sahana) and Python (SahanaPy), maintained and improved constantly by open communities of volunteers around the world.

Sahana in action :: GIS map of camps, Sri Lanka, after the 2004 tsunami disaster

This is a great opportunity for community builders, freelancers, BSc and MSc students, to get actively involved and get a first-hand experience of this special type of web CMS platform, highly technical and with great real-world impact. Typical required skills:

  • simple tester: just use the system on-line, help the developers track down bugs.
  • advanced testing (local deployment): experience with setting up web servers with database and script support.
  • coders: primarily PHP (Sahana) and Python (SahanaPy), some portable implementations (beta), also MySQL and Postgre for database support, some JavaScript (user interface).
  • documentation: help with user manuals, help content, etc, as reviewers or authors.
  • localization: translate documentation and user interface in other languages.
  • special: network protocols (XML-RPC), GIS ports (e.g. GoogleMaps API), import/export (e.g. PFIF)
  • special: system modeling (design), advanced networking (ad-hoc/mesh), future enhancements.

Anyone who wishes to get involved or learn more about it can contact the community directly for further information, primarily through the TalkSahana (blog) and the Sahana Wiki. Volunteers with above average programming expertise in some of these technologies may be able to contribute as coders. In any case, this is a great opportunity for new ideas and insight, regarding final year projects in BSc (more practical) and MSc (systems/networking). Professionals can contribute much more and make a real impact with their time, expertise and on-going commitment.

Some more details:

The "Humanitarian ICT" and "Humanitarian FOSS" (H-FOSS) cover a wide range of technologies and Informatics-related systems that support various levels of humanitarian efforts, from rapid deployment and coordination of  emergency response teams (level 1), enabling of e-volunteer communities in software and content development (level-2), to educational material and e-Learning platforms for developing countries (level-3).

One of the major reasons of human casualties and resource bottlenecks in large-scale disaster areas, like in the recent massive earthquake in Haiti, is the lack of coordination between the rescue teams and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). It is estimated that in large-scale disasters with massive casualties, more than 70% of the fatalities may be saved if better coordination of the rescue teams can be achieved within the first 48 hours after the event.

A perfect example of such a system is Sahana and SahanaPy, an award-winning FOSS (Free Open-Source Software) platform for supporting EOC work on-site. Starting from the 2004  tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean and followed by many successful deployments afterwards, such as in New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane (2005), the SahanaPy platform was deployed again only hours after the massive earthquake in Haiti and has been active ever since.

Both implementations are FOSS projects and their development is more or less based on the Agile approach. This means that the base design is limited but highly adaptable to new situations, as long as the community continues to provide constant and quality support. In any case, contribution in testing and documentation is always valuable and welcomed in such cases, especially since most of the contacts and collaborations are conducted primarily via the Internet (emails, blogs, IRC, etc) between persons from around the world.

Further info:,,,,,,,,,

Creative Commons License EU Public License
All the documents and related material by Harris Georgiou are licensed, in parts and as a whole, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. All the code sources and related material by Harris Georgiou are licensed, in parts and as a whole, under a EU Public License.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 February 2010 01:54