SBTF deliveries from phase 2 of Ebola activation

What have we done.

  • Built a single source of health facility information to provide the fundamental operational dataset for health facilities
  • Members of DHN (including SBTF) also established the Ebola IM/GIS skype group and its associated Coordination Spreadsheet which has hundreds of members and is actively in use both in the field and remotely. The DHN have received reports from stakeholders stating:

this has dramatically improved the sharing of GIS data and the communication between organisations… we have seen collaboration and the sharing of data and capabilities between divergent organizations, geographies and time zones because of the forums and conversations facilitated by this group’.

 The time already spent on this activity has of course given experience and knowledge about the countries, about the digital landscape surrounding the crisis, and the network of connections in a large group of organizations. As a free and independent entity, the presence of volunteer organizations like SBTF, DHN, OSM and others seems to be of great value. There is a landscape of actions that can be taken by us, that complement that of formal responders, and our work has demonstrated that in some cases we are better positioned to carry out some key activities.

 But the nature of this crisis has certainly challenged the capacity of a totally volunteer organization like the SBTF; we have delivered, though, the most comprehensive dataset of health care facilities of the affected countries

 The first deployment phase included collecting baseline data for the affected countries in collaboration with NetHope. All data was shared through the Open Humanitarian Data Repository, initiated by NetHope.

Later on, Standby Task Force joined the UN OCHA project Humanitarian Data Exchange, where the aim is to use the a common classification language on humanitarian response, to ease the use of the data across organizations and platforms. All our maps and data collected during crisis are aimed to be shared publicly, and this is one of the platforms where this will happen.

OCHA also provides the platform to support humanitarian operations globally. Eventually, the results of the SBTF data mining will find its way here.
Finally – we now have an internal, common hub for the maps created, which – if we manage to fund it, will turn into an archive of the deployments and work of our volunteers. A hub for them to point to and say: This is what I contributed doing!

Take a look at  the SBTF map collection here, the first place our new logo is being used:

What we will continue doing

  • Maintain and promote the Ebola IM/GIS collaborative group and coordination spreadsheet
  • Management of remote tasking
  • Support and guidance to remote volunteer teams
  • Development of data products as requested by field teams in partnership with the remote volunteers
  • Continue developing open data standards to facilitate cooperation across West Africa

  What phase 3 could look like

 Other well-funded groups are looking into increasing the digital capabilities of responders to this crisis. Some of the projects that are being considered are: mobile cell-towers, tablets and smartphones for information gathering, and server hubs used for sharing and analyzing.

SBTF/DHN has plans for improving field access to essential parts of the information already collected through downloadable, printable sets of maps and information. Due to unreliable internet, field workers need hard copies that contain the relevant data needed to complete their tasks. Another major challenge is the lack of a situational overview on the ground. Without a central command structure, active organizations do not know what is being done, by whom and where. Furthermore, we lack essential information on the health systems of these countries. Often, we do not know whether a given clinic is operating or closed, staffed or lacks equipment – in particular for the health systems in rural districts. If the SBTF could find a way to engage with volunteers on the ground or through the large diaspora, it may be possible to create a volunteer-driven data collection never before experienced in this part of the world. The project could be syncronized and developed in collaboration with MSF, British Red Cross, ACAPS and other entities.

 The situation on the ground is changing every day. Based on the information already collected, the SBTF/DHN would strive to keep the information on health clinics updated. We can accomplish this through information exchanges with survey teams on the ground. To follow up, collect and publish this data, we would need a team of individuals on a permanent day to day basis for as long as it takes to turn the escalating nature of this disaster. Based on the latest information from the World Health Organization (WHO), the estimated time-frame is a minimum of three months; more likely a period of six months..

The other task SBTF/DHN are looking into is “private funders”, or ‘in-kind donations’, to help identify what is being made available for the ebola response, and match these resources to the most appropriate responding teams.

Preparing to stand down on the Ebola phase 2 activation


This extensive data source only exists because of all the time and skill brought to bear by the SBTF team.”

“I think the SBTF has shown the whole GIS/IM community how a distributed online community can really work effectively”

Dear All,

The above are a few of the quotes from the many thanks we have received from our partner organizations for the work we’ve done thus far. We *are* making an impact, and our work *is* helping to fight Ebola.

BUT, there’s more to do! We need to push for another 24 hours. Please stay with us!

We will be finishing this phase of the activation at 05:00 UTC on Thursday 23rd October.

The effort everyone has put into this phase has been tremendous and words of thanks just do not seem enough. What you have achieved is making the most comprehensive health care facility dataset for the Ebola response.

The World Health Organisation GIS team will be using it in their response. They are recommending other agencies to use it also.

We now have just under 24 hours to finish verifying the final rows of data. Even if you only have 10 minutes of availability we invite you to consider supporting our final push to complete the verification of our work.

Here are a few examples of how your work is being visualized and supporting relief efforts.


We have been asked to convey to you the following messages.



Hello everyone,

On behalf of myself, the HOT ebola activation, and HOT itself I would like to thank the Standby Task force for the work that they have done in the ongoing west African ebola response.  The humanitarian workers in this area benefit far more from our combined response than they could from either one of our groups acting separately.  I look forward to continuing to work together in the future and learning how we can better support each other’s missions going forward.


Humanitarian Open Street Map Team



A massive thank you to the SBTF volunteers and yourself for the work that has gone into the

Health Facilities task in West Africa. This extensive data source only exists because of all the time and skill brought to bear by the SBTF team. Having that hard to come by information like phone numbers, the all important notes column, location and references back to sources (which are very diverse) is what makes this a resource to everyone from field teams to GIS analysts.

The Digital Humanitarian Network and SBTF team again delivered something beyond the abilities and scope of any traditional humanitarian organisation. The complementary nature of the work that digital volunteers do to the work on the ground by field teams seems to be getting closer and more direct.

Good luck with phase 3 of this work.

Unfortunately Ebola is not going away any time soon. On the ground they are doing everything they can to change this. Thank you for doing the same.”

Kind regards


British Red Cross  (GIS team)



To the volunteers working with the Standby Task Force supporting the Ebola outbreak response,

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is one of the most serious crises ever faced by MSF and by the global medical community.  We are facing a terrifying disease with extraordinary mortality rates, one which we have been aware of for decades but which has never been previously known to spread so widely.  The problem is massive, and the response (including our own) has thus far been inadequate to the needs.  Not since the emergence of HIV has an international outbreak spiraled out of control so completely.

The bottom line: managing this outbreak requires a massive deployment of highly trained medical staff, capable of safely managing isolation centers for a disease that does not forgive the slightest mistake.  This is not a battle that will be won by coordination, or by information management, or by maps.  It requires providing an unprecedented number of isolation beds, and trained medics to staff them.  As someone who spent most of my career doing operational management, I keenly feel the limitation of what I can provide in my current supporting role providing technical and informational support.

 Nevertheless, the efforts to provide information and mapping are valuable and necessary.  Ebola will not be beaten by these efforts alone, but every little bit helps. The medics, who have the tragic task of running treatment centers in which the majority of their patients die horribly, need all the support we can give them.  Every bit of information that allows them to make a transfer of a non-Ebola patient, or to send the ambulance to the right location quickly to pick up an Ebola victim before they transmit the disease to more of their neighbors, lightens the load on the population and the medical teams.

Our medical teams may not often take the time to express their thanks for the support they receive from volunteers such as yourself; they have little spare time and energy for anything beyond the exhausting work of providing isolation and treatment.  Nevertheless, they, and we as the wider MSF movement, and the humanitarian medical community in general, are grateful.  

Thank you.


Médecins Sans Frontières - UK


Please accept my humble words of appreciation for the work the whole SBTF community has done in all its coordination and mapping efforts.

As I am sure you are aware, general coordination, availability of various types of data and sharing these datasets have ALL been…I would dare say enormous obstacles in the preceding months.

I think the SBTF has shown the whole GIS/IM community how a distributed online community can really work effectively – I hope many organizations can learn from the way you work. Of course, I hope we all can utiize the datasets produced – and together with your facilitation also contribute to making the data better!  

I do hope that we can work together in different ways – small and large – to help fight this battle holistically.

With gratitude and respect,


ILab Liberia




I want to say THANKS for what you and your crew have been doing. I’ve taken some of the info that the SBTF has provided and passed it along to our Military folks doing down range (into Liberia). Since, access to Google Docs and Skype are blocked by some DoD Firewalls we’ve added a capability into our APAN site so that the Military folks can access the SBTF products.

Again Thanks,





So please after reading the thanks and seeing that your work is being used to help with the ebola response,  join in, sign up if you haven’t already and give even an hour to assist with the final push.

On a personal note I would like to convey my gratitude to Per, Joyce, Leesa and Hilary for all the hours they have contributed to support and guide everyone through this phase



Ebola Activation Update 18th October 2014

Firstly I want to convey our thanks to each and everyone of you.


Your input to the activation has meant that SBTF have the most comprehensive dataset of health care facilities in the affected countries.

The agencies that are using our information so far are UNMEER, World Health Organisation, NetHope, Medicine Sans Frontieres, British Red Cross, OSM to name a few and more requesting it by the day.
This has only been made possible by the time you have given to help the people suffering from this terrible illness.
We are looking at other phases of work to continue providing relevant, timely and accurate information.
For this to work we need to listen to your thoughts.
If you were part of this activation, we have compiled a short questionnaire and we would really appreciate if you would take time to complete it.
Your thoughts and ideas will contribute to making a success of the next activation.
Once again a huge thank you from us all.
Jus, Per, Joyce, Leesa, Hilary and all the wonderful team leads.

Ebola Activation Update 8th October 2014

SBTF are so fortunate to have amazing volunteers. Within 1 hour  of announcing the activation we had approx 60 members offer their time, as of now we have 131. Thank you each and every one. If you have not signed up yet here is the link to do so .

If you are not a SBTF member it is never too late to join us.

We are conducting training and refreshers for all tasks.


A brief update on the task so far:

We have inputted numerous organisations Health Care Facilities information into one comprehensive document, we are now filling in all the missing information, geo locating, reverse geolocating (if you dont know what this is sign up and find out) then verifying information. This document is now one of the most comprehensive ones of its type.

We have activated our Empathy team. (Leesa, Donna and Christina).  If anyone feels affected by the task they can talk to the team in total confidence at anytime.

Please contact them either via email, or christina@info4disasters.orgs or via our skype group.

Some feedback we received today via email from – World Health Organisation…….

” Thank you for the call today and, as we discussed your SBTF volunteers excellent work with Health Facilities data aggregation / QA-QC”  

Well done everyone your work is being noticed and used. Lets keep the momentum going.

We have some new team leads for this activation, thank you so much to the following people:


Peter Mosur

Lidia Cibor

Laura Morris

Heather Milton


Please feel free to ask any questions in any skype windows, one of us will be online to assist.

If anyone is interested in becoming one for this activation please email


Ebola Activation Phase 2.

Médecins Sans Frontières UK and The British Red Cross (BRC) have activated the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN), with Standby Task Force (SBTF) as the coordinating body, to support information management during the ongoing Ebola crisis.

The request was made through the Digital Humanitarian Network to engage their member-organisations in this work. Several of these organisations have responded their willingness to support, among them ACAPS, MapAction and GISCorps. HOT OSM have been active for several months already, and will also support in this phase of the activation. SBTF are in direct contact with them having worked alongside them since mid August on phase 1. The work has been supported by the World Health Organisation and UNOCHA to name but a few.

In this deployment we are also working with trusted partners from various universities around the world.

Formal responders, NGOs and digital volunteers have joined up online during this crisis, sharing their ongoing tasks, information and collaborating to solve issues. Openness and data sharing have been boosted, and the development of the “Humanitarian Exchange Language” (a way of coding information to ease sharing and collaboration), have been put to good use. All information collected (that is not of a sensitive nature) will be published on UN OCHAs new platform for sharing of humanitarian data:

There are a significant number of people in the digital community engaged in the response to the Ebola outbreak. The SBTF are one of the few organizations working directly on data mining, and we have had many requests from responding agencies, researchers and NGOs wanting to use our data for wide-ranging and fundamental aspects of the response.

The task at hand is to collect relevant data on the health care facilities in the affected countries. This data has been accumulated by numerous responding agencies.

SBTF and partners are collating it all, removing the duplicates and finding missing data using a variety of sources. Thus ending up with the most comprehensive data source of all health facilities. Responders and agencies are then able to use this as a vital decision making tool.

One responder on the ground in Conakry tells us that she is able to cover the verification of about three clinics a day. Traffic jams and poor maps are serious obstacles for doing ground surveys. The information collected by the SBTF and DHN volunteers will be shared with the teams in place in the affected countries, to increase their understanding of the condition of the entire health system, and how it has been affected (either directly or indirectly) by the Ebola Outbreak.

Standby Task Force will continue to lead the coordination of this vital effort.  With several organisations involved, it is a big challenge to make this run as smoothly as possible. We are currently a volunteer network, with no financial support whatsoever. That said, we have just become incorporated, to make it possible to run the organisation on a long term basis. Donations would be gratefully received during this time and for the long-term, please contact Jus or Per to discuss.


Best regards


Jus & Per


Justine Mackinnon, President

Per Aarvik, Vice President

SBTF shortlisted for an award.

Today I received this email.

Dear Justine,

I am delighted to announce that Standby Task Force has successfully reached the shortlist for “Advocate of the Year” at the Women in IT Awards 2015!

Our select group of judges will be meeting at the beginning of January to decide the winners, which will be announced at a gala evening taking place on 29 January 2015 at The Ballroom, Grosvenor House, Park Lane. London

Frequented by royalty, celebrities and business leaders since its opening in 1929, the historic Grosvenor House continues its time-honoured tradition for exceptional elegance, service and facilities.

The hotel, which holds one of London’s most desirable addresses in the exclusive Mayfair district, will provide the perfect concoction of glamour, prestige and style as leading players from the IT industry gather to celebrate the outstanding innovation achieved by women in the UK and Ireland.

Through a series of end-user, vendor and special recognition awards, the black-tie ceremony will highlight the tremendous value that women can bring to and gain from IT roles, which remain heavily populated by men.

The judges of this award are:

Susan Cooklin, CIO, Network Rail

Kevin Griffin, CIO, GE Capital International

Michael Ibbitson, CIO, Gatwick Airport

Carrie Hartnell, associate director, TechUK

Gillian Arnold, chair, BCSWomen

Claire Vyvyan, GM and executive director, Dell UK

Emma McGuigan, MD, Accenture Technology UK/I

Kate Craig-Wood, MD, Memset Hosting

Mark Maddocks, CIO, Cambridge University Press

Paul Clarke, director of technology, Ocado

Richard Lloyd-Williams, former IT director, Net-A-Porter

Karen Price OBE, CEO, e-Skills UK.


The event is supported by the UK’s biggest professional bodies for the IT industry: BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT, trade association techUK, and employer body e-Skills UK.




Well done and congratulations to every member of Standby Task Force.

To be shortlisted is a huge achievement in itself. I am so very proud to be part of an amazing team of people who work together to help others, thank you.







The Dilemma of Response in a Time of Crisis

The Standby Task Force (SBTF) has developed clear guidelines for the kinds of disaster situations we activate for, whether natural or man-made.  The SBTF has provided crisis informatics and mapping support to “boots-on-the-ground” humanitarian relief organizations.  As highlighted by world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly currently taking place in New York City, the severity and frequency of both man-made and natural disasters have increased significantly over the past decade.

The year of 2014 has been a challenging year for both individuals and communities around the world.  The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has spread rapidly and is having multiple compounding effects on provision of medical services, health infrastructure, and commerce in a number of nations.  Forty-one ongoing-armed conflicts, primarily in the Middle East and Africa, create instability and insecurity in the lives of those caught in the crossfire.  Rape used as a weapon of war increases while the number of internally displaced persons and refugees continues to grow.  Prolonged floods in Pakistan complicate both World Food Programme and Pakistani government efforts to address an entrenched famine, affecting millions.  The impact of climate change has finally caught the attention of world leaders and made its way onto the Security Council agenda.

In consideration of this, Joyce Monsees, Volunteer Engagement Lead for the SBTF, recently guest lectured about SBTF for a university.  She received a timely question from one of the students that brings up an important issue facing organizations receiving a deployment request. Joyce’s response to this question strikes at the core of the difficult decision that responding organizations must make in determining when and where to commit their resources:

Q: As a global disaster information organization, have you ever had a situation where a few disasters were occurring in different places around the world and different disaster response agencies in each area has requested activation of your services?

A: This is a great question.  When the Standby Task Force is activated, we commit our efforts to that one disaster so we can produce the best possible results for those victims.  We regret having to turn down an organization’s request but spreading our resources will not be helpful to either set of victims, The Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) will present that new activation request to another NGO (non-governmental organization) within our network.  Some of our members belong to these other NGOs too so if their other group takes the activation, those members may break from our current work, to assist them instead.  We are not a competitive network, but understand that those with certain skills may be more useful there.

Most of our activations have a set time period of 1-2 weeks so overlapping disasters is rare.  However, your question is timed well since the Ebola outbreak has changed that.  We are currently in a long-term activation to produce information reports for ground teams responding to the epidemic. There are multiple organizations helping since some have specific skill sets like technology support, statistics and translation.  It is also still hurricane season within an El Niño year so we may still have typhoons in the Pacific, unusual monsoonal rains in some areas and severe drought in others. With this long-term activation, we will need to strategize as a network to decide who assists if a new disaster occurs.

Ultimately, whenever a humanitarian organization provides relief services and support in a crisis setting, the single most important issue is the safety and security of the populations served.  The principle of “Do No Harm” or Primum Non Nocere is central to the work of the Standby Task Force in how we undertake our work.  Stay tuned for more updates soon.