Stories about: disaster

Tweeting in the time of cholera

Improving or maintaining access to clean drinking water is the best way to prevent a cholera epidemic. Twitter could prove an excellent way to help stop one. (Julien Harneis/Flickr)

It was after the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake that mobile-friendly social media services like Twitter and Ushahidi came into their own as disaster management and relief tools. With the nation’s already unsteady infrastructure destroyed, these tools helped speed the deployment of people and supplies to where they were needed by giving relief workers on-the-ground intelligence about what was happening, what was needed and where in nearly real time.

With hindsight, Twitter and other informal data sources could also have sped up efforts to halt the spread of one of the disaster’s most feared aftermaths – cholera.

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Putting families back together after a disaster

Five thousand children were separated from their families in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With the REUNITE system, Sarita Chung wants to bring families back together more quickly following a disaster. (infrogmation/Flickr)

Once we’ve checked in at the disaster aid center, a social worker leads my wife and me into a room and warmly introduces us to a pair of technicians seated at computers. After asking us each some questions, the techs enter some commands on their keyboards and pictures of children start appearing on the screens before us, nine at a time. Our job: to find and be reunited with our boys.

Luckily, this is only a drill. But in the wake of a disaster like last month’s tornadoes in Western Massachusetts, reunifying separated children and parents is a real and urgent concern.

“Five thousand children were separated from their families after Hurricane Katrina, some by hundreds of miles once the evacuations started,” says Sarita Chung of the Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston. “And the 2010 Haiti earthquake put more than a million children at risk.” Children who cannot speak for themselves because they are too young or have developmental delays, or who are injured and have to be rushed to emergency rooms, are at particular risk of being separated from their families in the chaos following a hurricane, earthquake or other disaster.

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