Think Mobile, Act Local

author: 
John Mulrow
Late in the afternoon of February 15 someone in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, sent the following SMS (a.k.a. text message) to an emergency response center:

NAN DELMA 33 NAN PAK T.OKAP LA NOU BEZWEN TANT, SI LAPLI TONBE NOU MELE!

The SMS went immediately via the Internet to a group of Haitian Creole speakers from around the world who had signed on to help with the relief effort. Someone translated: "At Delma 33, at the park we need tent. If it rains, we are in trouble." At the same time, someone else-also on the web-found Delmas 33 on a map and identified the roadside parks where the SMS could have come from. Finally the message, translated and located on a map, arrived in the hands of the Red Cross, U.S. Coast Guard, and other relief coordinators.

With post-earthquake rains threatening to cause landslides, building collapses, and miserable conditions outdoors, this SMS signaled the urgency of the need to get shelter to displaced people scattered in parks throughout Port-au-Prince. More broadly, this message and the thousands of other texts that came through this system combined to give the relief effort an unprecedented amount of precise, personal, and geographical data to act upon.