We’re just two months into the new year, yet two countries have suffered massive and devastating earthquakes. While Haiti is still reeling from the 7.0 magnitude quake it suffered in mid-January, Chile was hit with a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake early Saturday (that’s 1,000 times more powerful than the one that hit Haiti).
Yet something amazing has happened since the Haiti quake. Caught off guard by Haiti, that tragedy (which has since claimed an estimated 230,000 lives) has served as a learning curve for a host of realtime, social media and online outlets on how to react quickly when disaster strikes. As with Haiti, Twitter has again been in the forefront in Chile, helping find people lost in the quake, while Twitpic has provided some of the first pictures of the damage inflicted. The U.S. State Department set up a text donation number immediately after Haiti, but carriers initially slowed the process by charging users for sending funds via mobile, before waiving the fees under government pressure. This time around, the four major U.S. carriers have waived their fees, and the Mobile Giving Foundation provides the lowdown on what mobile text numbers to use to support the relief organizations. Many, such as the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity are also accepting online donations.
Google, meanwhile, is reusing many of the tools it set up for Haiti and reworking them to help Chile. Google’s Crisis Response serves as the de facto control center, providing realtime updates, donation information, and maps of the country. Google has also launched a person finder (www.chilepersonfinder.appspot.com) with a simple user interface that allows you to swiftly send and retrieve information about people you have found or are seeking. Google’s mappers, meanwhile, have launched http://chile.ushahidi.com. In Haiti, Ushahidi took text messages and plotted them on maps for charities and relief workers. The team is already setting up shortcodes for the SMS service in Chile, according to the O’Reilly radar blog. Ushahidi uses Open Street Maps and will be relying on its network of volunteers to build those maps, so if you’re keen to help plot the damage and identify where help is needed most, step up to the plate.
As of this writing, Chile, despite the devastation, has asked for no outside help. Chilean authorities are generally well prepared to cope in such an emergency – on all levels of government. The Chilean National Emergency Office (Onemi) is responsible for organising firefighters, medical teams, civil defence and other services, according to the BBC. “Chile is a seismic country. So, we must be prepared!,” seems to be the message Onemi wants to communicate. But as we all know, circumstances can change in an instant. That’s why building on the realtime and social applications that currently exist can only benefit those affected when the next crisis hits.