Article in Social Media, Tech Industry, Technology categories.

The Frontier of Humanitarian Relief: Connecting Disaster Response and the Technical Community

The challenges of disaster relief are many. Traditionally, the insurmountable issue has been that it’s nearly impossible to get the right information to the right…

Japan disaster

The challenges of disaster relief are many. Traditionally, the insurmountable issue has been that it’s nearly impossible to get the right information to the right place at the right time. The motto of many aid workers is “first the earthquake, then the disaster”. Basic things like getting fresh water or contacting loved ones has remained a fundamental problem for both victims and rescue workers. The unstable nature of an environmental disaster lends itself to these types of problems but thankfully, there are dedicated technology professionals working hard on solving them.

Emerging Leadership

iPhone, Android and Blackberry apps are such a relatively new field, that it’s no surprise that there has been a bit of a slow start when it comes to using these tools in times of crisis. The first reaction of most people is to physically try and help or send money to those in need. But now that awareness of the technology at hand has grown at such an exponential rate, things have changed.

Social Media as a Means of Relief

After the initial shock and panic of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan has faded from the media cycle, there is still an endless amount of support needed to assist the afflicted towns and villages. A particularly touching case was the story of  An SOS By The Mayor of Minami Soma City Fukushima. Through his heartfelt description of their plight, people around the world rallied to help. Funds have been raised and the support worldwide has been phenomenal.  When the bright light of social media shines on such hidden victims, it lessens the chance they fall by the wayside. The ongoing effort to rebuild in places like Haiti, China and Chile has also benefited from such messages to the public.

Developing Tech in Remote Regions

Mobile satellite units are being developed by private companies across the world and they are not just for military use. Sustainable communications is another area that is being developed. Installing a network takes time, money, organization and funding. Using simple tools like Skype can vastly improve the quality and speed of communication. This in turn helps with what is referred to as “disaster diplomacy”, being able to incorporate foreign aid into local culture for a sustained rebuilding or rescue effort. This is something that is necessary but often overlooked. Without this kind of consideration, there is a communication gap between aid workers and local citizens. Thanks to the unifying power of social media, people are able to connect via the web and translating cultural differences is smoother. The United Nations Federation is one example of a nonprofit organization that helps close the gap between those in need and those who can help through communication and technology.

Being on the Ground vs. Being on the Web

It’s not just about aid on the ground. Every person with access to the internet has the ability to help. Giving money has never been easier thanks to text-to-pay services. But that’s not all we can do. Raising awareness of disaster, communicating with people in need, following up on stories, and staying informed about ways to contribute is only the beginning. Everyday volunteer organizations are coming up with ways to make relief efforts even better and they are always looking to branch out and recruit new members.


There’s hope. Although it seems like every day there’s a flood or tornado, that there’s just too many people in need and not enough resources to help, there’s hope. Perhaps one of the most comforting things to keep in mind is that there is a community of people who are working tirelessly to elevate us to a level where we are prepared to deal with any disaster effectively and with compassion.

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