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digital humanitarians

#RHoK4Peace Rallies Vancouver's Tech Talent to Tackle Global Issues

On November 28 and 29, dozens of local technology, communications and marketing professionals came together to donate their time to projects benefitting changemakers and peacebuilders around the world. Featuring projects from Libya, Jordan, Kenya, South Sudan and right here in Vancouver, our #RHoK4Peace hackathon was an unqualified success!

With sponsor Axiom Zen, and support from OpenDataBC, the HiVE and Affinity Bridge, PeaceGeeks provided an opportunity for Vancouverites to put their skills and expertise to use for the benefit of grassroots organizations across the globe.

Some of the weekend’s efforts built on previous projects with PeaceGeeks partners:

  • Increasing the effectiveness of an SMS-based system for reporting incidents of gender based violence in South Sudan. The app is currently being used by Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO). The #RHoK4Peace team developed new ways of visualizing the data collected and proposed next steps for the organization to take in leveraging the data they receive.
  • Logo design and development of a new website for the Libyan Youth Movement, a youth-led and youth-focused social media and online-based initiative promoting the views and perspectives of Libyan youth to the global community.
  • Developing a secure system for documenting human rights violations to further the goals of National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya (NCHRD-K). The team focused on the group’s need for a digitally secure tool that will enable it to produce reports based on data collected and the ability to rapidly access records to support prosecution efforts.
  • Expanding the capabilities of Services Advisor, an app that helps connect refugees in Jordan with humanitarian services in their area. #RHoK4Peace team members worked to upgrade Service Advisor’s capabilities, with the goal of enabling refugees to provide feedback on the services they receive. Services Advisor was developed by PeaceGeeks in partnership with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Jordan; PeaceGeeks is now in discussion with organizations in Greece to implement the app’s use in that country as well.

The weekend also saw the launch of two new PeaceGeeks projects. An effort to combat the online messaging and recruiting efforts of the Islamic State (more properly referred to as Daesh) was launched. The team worked on identifying digital presences in the Middle East and North Africa that are producing effective, anti-Daesh messaging via analysis of Twitter hashtags and handles. With an aim of challenging Daesh’s targeting of youth, this project will strengthen the technological capacities of digitally active youth, civil society leaders and other advocates around the world who are best positioned to provide a legitimate response to the threat of Daesh.

The most local project of the weekend was Tea Time, an app developed based on feedback from recent refugees. Many know Vancouver as a ‘lonely or unfriendly city; the struggle to connect is even greater for recently arrived refugees, many of whom face language and culture barriers. Tea Time aims to tackle this issue by providing a platform where new arrivals and Vancouver locals can come together and interact in an easy, friendly way. The app is being developed for iOS, Android and the web, allowing access via smartphone and desktop. The web application is to ensure that newcomers, who may only have internet access via a public computer, can still engage on the platform. The app will be available in multiple languages in order to be accessible to a wide range of new arrivals.

The hackaton got some well-deserved media attention as well. We were featured on Global News, CBC's Early Edition and CKNW!

The #RHoK4Peace was produced in association with Random Hacks of Kindness with sponsorship from Granville Island Brewing and Fresh Bowl.

PeaceGeeks is very proud of the results of this weekend’s hackathon and plans to host several more in 2016. As a volunteer-based organization, we rely on sponsorship and donations to help fund our work. We’re currently in the midst of our #GiveItUp4Peace campaign, an effort to stand in solidarity with refugees who give up everything in the hopes of a better life. From now through December 13, donations to the campaign will be matched by The Black Family Foundation - meaning every dollar goes twice as far. Donations can be made on our campaign site, Your contributions help us develop tools like Services Advisor, host community events like the #RHoK4Peace hackathon and continue to support the work of grassroots peacebuilders and changemakers around the world!

Dec 1, 2015

Typhoon Ruby/Hagupit in the Philippines

Project Problem

The Philippines were hit by the devastating Typhoon Ruby/Hagupit in December, 2014 which left18 dead, nearly 1000 injured, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. 

How We Helped

The Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) was activated in response to a request from UNOCHA (The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) to map and monitor media platforms in for information on this emergency. The Standby Task Force (SBTF) spearheaded this project by deploying AIDR/MicroMappers platform provided by QCRI, in collaboration with Rappler in the Philippines, to filter for relevant tweets and photos, to be posted on a web-based crisis map. 

The focus was on the following key areas of support:

  • Monitor social media sources (mainly Twitter) for reference to urgent needs, infrastructure damage, and humanitarian aid
  • Categorize tweets on the MicroMappers platform to prioritize emergency work
  • Extract incident location information from tweets and geolocation the incident

Activation Results

Over the course of 72 hours, these Digital Jedis united to MicroMap one Click at a time. By reviewing tweets and image, each MicroMapper built collective intelligence and insights that were used to build a comprehensive situational awareness reports and maps for the UN. 

Catherine, the Head of the UN’s Information Management Unit in the Philippines had this to say: “I would like to thank all the volunteers […] for their invaluable contribution over the past few days. We are lucky that Hagupit [Ruby] made less damages than expected and that the emergency quickly scaled down.”


Ebola in West Africa

Project Problem

In 2014, World Health Organization reported an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, particularly focussed in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. As these are nations that are among the least developed in the world and are struggling to recover from conflicts, this activation aligned well with the PeaceGeeks mandate, as a health concern would exacerbate these already existing concerns.

How We Helped

The Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) was activated by  Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) UK and The British Red Cross (BRC), with the Standby Task Force (SBTF) as the coordinating body, to support information management during the ongoing Ebola crisis. Although there are many organizations involved in aiding in the Ebola crisis, this project is one of the few which are focussing their efforts directly on data management and collecting information that will go on to assist in the work that other organizations are carrying out on the ground. A team of 4 PeaceGeeks members were quickly assembled to support the SBTF in this activation.

The primary purpose of this exercise was to create reliable data sets of medical facilities to enable first responders to make informed decisions about the delivery of patients to the most appropriate facility, based on location and whether or not they were known or suspected to be affected by the ebola virus.

The focus was on the following key areas of support:

  • Create one comprehensive Health Facilities Database from all available sources
  • Scan documents/websites to extract facility locations and geolocate facilities to nearest location
  • Filling in missing information about health facilities (What is the name of the facility at this location? Is it currently open? Are they accepting infected patients?  Are they in need of any supplies? Is there contact information for the facility?)
  • Verify database information from reliable sources, including aid workers on the ground in West Africa

Maps Produced During Activation:

This map produced by the Standby Task Force depicts a summary of the information collected during the project. Here is a summary of the outstanding work complete dby the digital humanitarian community for this emergency. 

Activation Results

The activation was successful in creating the most comprehensive health care facility dataset for the Ebola response in the affected countries. Local responders, in Conakry, Guinea for example, report that three clinics can verified per day in person, given the restrictions posed by the current transportation networks and limited maps of the area.

This database became an invaluable resource for numerous organizations, including the World Health Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) UK, and The British Red Cross (BRC), for mobilizing response teams on the ground in the affected countries. 

Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu

Project Problem

On the evening of March 13, 2015 Tropical Cyclone Pam - an extremely destructive category 5 cyclone, struck Vanuatu causing serious damage to 22 islands across the archipelago. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) reported that 16 people had been killed, 15,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, 75,000 people were in need of emergency shelter and 166,000 people were in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. 

How We Helped

In response to a request for support from the OCHA on March 13, PeaceGeeks and other members of the Digital Humanitarians Network activated emergency support teams to help collect information about the situation on the ground towards helping responders to make effective decisions around how to deploy humanitarian resources.

The request asked for three key areas of support:

  • Getting locations of injured people, infrastructure damage, interrupted water supply, damaged health facilities etc. (data and crisis map)
  • Searching for posts from traditinal media and social media about the storm, including identifying pictures and videos of damage and flooding (locate, verify and categorize the content)
  • Collecting the 3W's - who, what, where - for the response.
  • PeaceGeeks, in partnership with GISCorps, MapAction and Humanity Road led on task #1 and played a support role on tasks #2 towards supporting early response efforts.

Maps Produced During Activation:

Over the course of two weeks, 4 key maps were produced by this team:

Image Category Clickers and Geoclickers - Images from social media and news outlets were categorized to indicate damage and geolocated. This resulted in an ArcGIS Online Map with a summary the damage a Story Map by the StandBy Task Force and a MicroMappers map

Vanuatu Basemap Layers - Shapefiles were downloaded from Humanitarian Response and turned into feature layers on ArcGIS Online for basemap information such as island names, administrative boundaries, and roads.

Health and Medical Status Updates Map - Injury and morality updates provided by Humanitarian Road from Social Media into a Google Docs Sheet brought into ArcGIS Online and overlain on basemap layers

Social Media Early Indications Map - The above updates were summarized to indicate impact on each island of Vanuatu on an ArcGIS Online Map.

Translation and Local Knowledge:

A number of volunteers were brought in via PeaceGeeks who had local knowledge of Vanuatu. This played a key role in assisting with translation, local names and verification of information. This will the first time a DHN activation specifically aimed to recruit people with local knowledge, and it was broadly agreed that this provided a significant boost in strengthening the quality of the information provided.

Activation Results

These tools play a key role in helping humanitarian responders, including UN-OCHA, the government of Vanuatu, humanitarian organizations and local organizations, to effectively deploy resources to the affected areas.

In addition, PeaceGeeks remained in direct contact with the government of Vanuatu regarding possible setup an SMS-based reporting mechanism to assist with collecting information and reports from the islands on an on-going basis.

Emergency Response (Multiple Partners)

Crisis Overview

When disasters occur, humanitarian responders lack information about critical issues that would help them to make better decisions to help the most affected populations, while citizens also often lack access to critical infrastructure and services, such as medical care and water, which can mean the difference between life and death. They also lack access to critical information updates due to disruptions in power, internet, phone services and other infrastructure.

Our Impact

PeaceGeeks Emergency Response Team activates upon request by our partners, the Digital Humanitarians Network and by coordinating organizations such as the Red Cross and UN High Commission for Refugees. Our stand-by team of developers, ICT experts, social media gurus, GIS experts, translators and web researchers help to monitor disasters online and respond to a variety of requests.

Completed Projects
Mar 31, 2015
Oct 23, 2014
Dec 10, 2014
Apr 12, 2015
Deliverables Summary
  • Social media monitoring
  • Crowdmapping 
  • ICT set-up
  • App Development
  • Mobile and web app tool set-up
  • GIS projects

PeaceGeeks Contributors

Shannon Cox Emergency Response Team Lead

Contact for more information or to get involved.

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