Standby Task Force activates to support NetHope during the Ebola outbreak

Standby Task Force have been activated by NetHope to assist in collection and management of information in connection with the West African Ebola outbreak.

–Urgent assistance is needed to support the 15+ NetHope member organizations that are actively involved in the response to the outbreak in the four countries in West Africa where cases have been confirmed: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, says Gisli Olafsson, Emergency Response Director in NetHope.

Standby Task Force will help collect openly available baseline data about the countries involved and collect openly available, yet reliable data about the outbreak into the open geospatial repository.
–Our digital volunteers are able to re-format and visualize data needed by the member organizations of NetHope. This is also a type of work that our communities do, says Justine Mackinnon, president of the Standby Task Force.
See also the blogpost at NetHope.

Update on SBTF #balkanfloods activation

Standby Task Force has been activated by UNOCHA via the Digital Humanitarian Network.

“While different assessment are being carried out, OCHA Coordinated Assessment Support Section (CASS) based in Geneva are carrying out rapid secondary data analysis to support the United Nations Resident Coordinators in the affected countries.
While country team is channeling information from the ground, CASS would also like to tap in other information sources and collect as much information as possible”

Please try the new apps and start clicking to help the response.

FYI: Text and image clicker app is up and running
iOS :

BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory (UK) May 5th

Everyone at the Standby Task Force is thrilled by the overwhelming positive reaction to BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory feature on crisis mapping and humanitarian technology tonight! We are eagerly waiting to share the complete feature once the BBC makes it available online.

If you are interested in contributing to digital humanitarian responses, please join us!

If you have any questions about what we do or how we work, please check out the information on our site and feel free to email any questions to:



New SBTF Deployment for Typhoon Yolanda

Disaster responders in the Philippines need your help!


The Standby Task Force is officially deploying in response to a Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) request from UN OCHA to assist with media monitoring and mapping for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), a super typhoon due to make landfall in the Philippines at 01:00 UTC on Friday, November 8th.

Please consider contributing your time to this new deployment! You do not need to be a member of the SBTF, you simply need to follow the steps below and log into Skype.

Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to working with you!

Activator: UN OCHA via DHN

Deployment timeframe: 21:00 UTC, Thursday, November 7 – 22:00 UTC, Sunday, November 10.

Platform: The deployment will use the MicroMappers platform that the SBTF are testing and the Ushahidi map platform. Regarding MicroMappers, this deployment is open to anyone with an internet connection; no previous training or SBTF membership is required. Regarding the Ushahidi map, we will need SBTF volunteers with experience in using Ushahidi.

STEP 1: Please sign up for the deployment and indicate your availability here:

STEP 2: We will add you to the Skype chat window for the deployment called Typhoon Yolanda – Palau General Chat. Please check this Skype window for further instructions and link to the platform for the deployment.

Deployment Leads:

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.



Super Typhoon Haiyan, known locally in the Philippines as Yolanda, is equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, posing a major threat to people and property across the island nation.

Earlier on Thursday, local time, the winds with this exceptionally dangerous storm increased to 280 kph (nearly 175 mph), tying it with Super Typhoon Lekima for the strongest tropical system in the world for the 2013 season based on wind speed and central pressure. The strength of Haiyan (Yolanda) is equal to that of an extremely powerful Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic.

The typhoon is expected to make landfall at around 09:00 local time (01:00 UTC) on Friday between Samar and Leyte, two of the Visayan Islands in central Philippines. It is then forecast to move over to the South China Sea north of Palawan Island on Saturday, meteorologists say. Its anticipated path will take it directly over the Filipino region struck hardest by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in October. Around 12 million people live in the Manila metro area, where the storm is expected to hit Saturday, with another 10 million in the central Philippines, where the storm will likely hit hardest.

Accuweather warns rainfall along the storm’s path could measure over 8 inches (200 mm), with mudslides becoming an increasing concern at higher elevations. Making matters worse, a tropical cyclone has already drenched parts of the central Philippines, meaning the storm’s rainfall will likely lead to worse flooding and mudslides.

The typhoon can have a high humanitarian impact based on the maximum sustained wind speed and the affected population and their vulnerability. Schools and offices have already been closed in the region and thousands of people are being evacuated. The estimated population to be affected by Category 1 (120 km/h) wind speeds or higher is 14.2 million

Useful links:

Moving testimony on the damage that digital activism can wreak…on ourselves

I can’t add much to this powerful piece by Cameran Ashraf, but I think many of us will recognise what he describes – whether from our own experiences, or from seeing some of our own digital humanitarian friends and colleagues undergo varying degrees of this problem.

For Eliana…

People often think our online lives are not real, that our relationships there are somehow less meaningful and that what occurs to us personally online means nothing compared to the physical.  We believe our online lives and friendships have value, and that we owe respect to this magical, digital world.

The recent news of the passing (see of our dear comrade, Eliana Zemmer, was unexpected to say the least.  Eliana’s illness was sudden and tragically she did not survive.  No one from our online community was aware that she had become ill or been hospitalized.

A discussion grew in response to this sad event.  The fact that a community brought together to help others was so unaware that one of our own could leave this world without our knowing seemed unbelievable.  The sense of guilt and anger for not knowing has both magnified and stalled the “normal” grieving process.

To ensure this doesn’t happen again within our community, the Standby Task Force’s Empathy Team has designated the 4th of every month as Eliana Day and the 5th of December as annual Hug-a-Mapper Day.

Small groups of SBTF members, three or so, will be formed to look out for each other.  On Eliana Day, each member checks-in with their group via e-mail; tweet; Facebook update; text; phone call; or any 140-character post.  On Hug-a-Mapper Day, coined by Core Team member Sara Farmer, the HR team will check-in with “every mapper on the planet” (or at least all SBTF members) via a group-to-group communications tool.

These days of celebration will be opened to the crisismapping community at large via info4disasters and EMsafespace.  The beautiful image below was designed by ET member Rose Merritz as a logo and badge for signing-up with Hug-a-Mapper Day.

Remember Eliana by reaching out to your online friends and colleagues who have been out of touch.  Check-in with your extended online community.  “Hug-a-mapper”, Facebook friend or follower when you find them missing or for no reason at all.


Leesa, Christina, Donna & Rose @ ET”

Eliana Zemmer – SBTF mapper, friend to many of us

Dear SBTF members, mappers

to our great great sadness we discovered last night that Eliana Zemmer, a wonderful person and incredibly dedicated crisis mapper had died recently in hospital, after a sudden illness.  She was only 39.

Many of us have extremely fond memories of working on deployments with Eliana and a few of us who had known her through her online engagement wrote the following – to try and convey something of what we knew of her and how much we appreciated having got to know her even a little bit.

Eliana was a crisismapper with the Standby Task Force. Everyone who worked alongside her knew Eliana as a consummate mapper – someone who put in her heart and soul, and was always there for the rest of us, helping, learning and supporting. What only a few of us knew ‘til recently was that she was quietly generous too, helping other mappers in need even though she didn’t have many resources herself.  Eliana worked on the Libya Crisis Map, Hurricane Irene Recovery Map and Somalia deployment, then coordinated the SBTF Reports Team for the Colombian Floods. A tireless volunteer and coordinator, the Libya deployment was a typical example of her work: she translated between multiple languages including French, Italian, Spanish, German and Portuguese, and was always available and keeping an eye on all the deployment volunteers.

Simply put, Eliana was a rock – patient, utterly dependable, an oasis of common sense when so many around her were losing perspective and over-reacting to the often admittedly terrible events we were covering – rare and priceless qualities. When things were especially stressful we could often release the tension by having little wry conversations in German on the side – where her gentle humour came to the fore. Eliana offered to assist with first aid and other translations. She felt deeply about the importance of global healthcare. Not only did she advocate for medical needs that came to her attention, she assisted personally whenever and wherever she could. In her “spare” time, Eliana was active in developing a ready-to-post collection of “tweets” in Italian for any disaster or first aid need.

Between deployments, Eliana regularly welcomed newcomers into the SBTF chatroom, posted in multiple languages, made little parties in the Skype chat-rooms and used the squirrel symbol. A lot. Eliana was one of us, and will be missed by us all.

Meanwhile, we’d like to remember Eliana in actions as well as words, so here’s a suggestion for each of us: find a mapper that you haven’t spoken to for a while (or ever), friend them on Facebook, Skype or GooglePlus and say “hi – how are you”?

A translation of Eliana’s German obituary and links to her pages are below.

Eliana’s Obituary

And forever somewhere in the world … are traces of your life.  With a sad heart we are saying goodbye to our beloved Eliana, 4th October 1973 † 5th December 2012, who after a short difficult illness passed away peacefully in the Lord. We will accompany our beloved Eliana today, Friday 7 December, at 14.30, starting from the cemetery chapel, then on to the funeral service in the parish church of Seis followed by our final farewell in the local cemetery.

Seis, 5 December 2012.

We will never forget you: your son Saber, your parents Francis and Tamara, your brother Dimitri, your godmother Waltraud and on behalf of all the other relatives and acquaintances, we would like to thank the physicians and nurses from Bozen Hospital for the loving care.

“Und immer irgendwo…  sind Spuren deines Lebens. Mit traurigem Herzen nehmen wir Abschied von unserer lieben Eliana Zemmer  4. 10. 1973 † 5. 12. 2012. Die nach kurzer schwerer Krankheit friedlich im Herrn entschlafen ist. Wir begleiten unsere liebe Eliana heute, Freitag, den 7. Dezember, um 14.30 Uhr von der Friedhofskapelle ausgehend, zur Trauerfeier in die Pfarrkirche von Seis mit anschließender Verabschiedung im Ortsfriedhof.  Seis, den 5. Dezember 2012

Wir werden dich nie vergessen: dein Sohn Saber, deine Eltern Franz und Tamara, dein Bruder Dimitri, deine Patin Waltraud, und im Namen aller übrigen Verwandten und Bekannten.

Danken möchten wir den behandelnden Ärzten und dem Pflegepersonal vom Krankenhaus Bozen für die liebevolle Betreuung.”

Eliana’s pages:

from the SBTF

Thank You from Us!

Kofi A. Annan: International Volunteer Day, 05.12.2003:

…At the heart of volunteerism are the ideals of service and solidarity and the belief that together we can make the world a better place.
…But far away from the spotlight, there are millions of generous individuals who, around the clock and around the world, roll up their sleeves and volunteer to help in any way they can.
…Volunteers do not ask, “why volunteer?”, but rather “when?”, “where?” and “how?”. These dedicated and courageous individuals are important partners in the quest for a better, fairer and safer world.

These volunteers are you, each and everyone of you. We cannot thank you enough for giving your time and skills to SBTF.

Some facts and figures.

In the last few weeks we sailed past the 1000 member mark . Totally outstanding considering SBTF has only been active since ICCM 2010. The SBTF googlegroup has 1466 members.

Each week, 10-15 members enter the SBTF. Our youngest member is 15 years and our eldest is an amazing 88 years. This just goes to show you can volunteer with SBTF at any age!

We have volunteers in 95 unique Countries, you can say we really are worldwide, speaking a total of 58 different languages.

107 members names begin with the letter “A”, (Thanks Svend-Jonas for this fact!)

Out of the 1013 members on the Ning page 521 have a Twitter account!

We have volunteers with various backgrounds making us multi skilled and knowledgeable on a vast amount of subjects. 34 members work with the UN, we also have an ex Airfield Manager and an ex “Hat” fashion model!!!! (Sorry Patrick!)

To celebrate all you do in the name of volunteering for Standby Task Force Jaro Valuch has created a fantastic video. Than you Jaro and Om for the work you have put into creating this celebration video.

…… and thank you all, each and everyone of you for being part of this wonderful family of volunteers.

How the UN Used Social Media in Response to Typhoon Pablo (Updated)

Cross-posted from

Our mission as digital humanitarians was to deliver a detailed dataset of pictures and videos (posted on Twitter) which depict damage and flooding following the Typhoon. An overview of this digital response is available here. The task of our United Nations colleagues at the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was to rapidly consolidate and analyze our data to compile a customized Situation Report for OCHA’s team in the Philippines. The maps, charts and figures below are taken from this official report (click to enlarge).

Typhon PABLO_Social_Media_Mapping-OCHA_A4_Portrait_6Dec2012

This map is the first ever official UN crisis map entirely based on data collected from social media. Note the “Map data sources” at the bottom left of the map: “The Digital Humanitarian Network’s Solution Team: Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) and Humanity Road (HR).” In addition to several UN agencies, the government of the Philippines has also made use of this information.

Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 7.26.19 AM

Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 7.29.24 AM

The cleaned data was subsequently added to this Google Map and also made public on the official Google Crisis Map of the Philippines.

Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 7.32.17 AM

One of my main priorities now is to make sure we do a far better job at leveraging advanced computing and microtasking platforms so that we are better prepared the next time we’re asked to repeat this kind of deployment. On the advanced computing side, it should be perfectly feasible to develop an automated way to crawl twitter and identify links to images  and videos. My colleagues at QCRI are already looking into this. As for microtasking, I am collaborating with PyBossa and Crowdflower to ensure that we have highly customizable platforms on stand-by so we can immediately upload the results of QCRI’s algorithms. In sum, we have got to move beyond simple crowdsourcing and adopt more agile micro-tasking and social computing platforms as both are far more scalable.

In the meantime, a big big thanks once again to all our digital volunteers who made this entire effort possible and highly insightful.

Summary: Digital Disaster Response to Philippine Typhoon

Cross-posted from

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) activated the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) on December 5th at 3pm Geneva time (9am New York). The activation request? To collect all relevant tweets about Typhoon Pablo posted on December 4th and 5th; identify pictures and videos of damage/flooding shared in those tweets; geo-locate, time-stamp and categorize this content. The UN requested that this database be shared with them by 5am Geneva time the following day. As per DHN protocol, the activation request was reviewed within an hour. The UN was informed that the request had been granted and that the DHN was formally activated at 4pm Geneva.


The DHN is composed of several members who form Solution Teams when the network is activated. The purpose of Digital Humanitarians is to support humanitarian organizations in their disaster response efforts around the world. Given the nature of the UN’s request, both the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) and Humanity Road (HR) joined the Solution Team. HR focused on analyzing all tweets posted December 4th while the SBTF worked on tweets posted December 5th. Over 20,000 tweets were analyzed. As HR will have a blog post describing their efforts shortly (please check here), I will focus on the SBTF.

Geofeedia Pablo

The Task Force first used Geofeedia to identify all relevant pictures/videos that were already geo-tagged by users. About a dozen were identified in this manner. Meanwhile, the SBTF partnered with the Qatar Foundation Computing Research Institute’s (QCRI) Crisis Computing Team to collect all tweets posted on December 5th with the hashtags endorsed by the Philippine Government. QCRI ran algorithms on the dataset to remove (1) all retweets and (2) all tweets without links (URLs). Given the very short turn-around time requested by the UN, the SBTF & QCRI Teams elected to take a two-pronged approach in the hopes that one, at least, would be successful.

The first approach used  Crowdflower (CF), introduced here. Workers on Crowd-flower were asked to check each Tweet’s URL and determine whether it linked to a picture or video. The purpose was to filter out URLs that linked to news articles. CF workers were also asked to assess whether the tweets (or pictures/videos) provided sufficient geographic information for them to be mapped. This methodology worked for about 2/3 of all the tweets in the database. A review of lessons learned and how to use Crowdflower for disaster response will be posted in the future.

Pybossa Philippines

The second approach was made possible thanks to a partnership with PyBossa, a free, open-source crowdsourcing and micro-tasking platform. This effort is described here in more detail. While we are still reviewing the results of this approach, we expect that  this tool will become the standard for future activations of the Digital Humanitarian Network. I will thus continue working closely with the PyBossa team to set up a standby PyBossa platform ready-for-use at a moment’s notice so that Digital Humanitarians can be fully prepared for the next activation.

Now for the results of the activation. Within 10 hours, over 20,000 tweets were analyzed using a mix of methodologies. By 4.30am Geneva time, the combined efforts of HR and the SBTF resulted in a database of 138 highly annotated tweets. The following meta-data was collected for each tweet:

  • Media Type (Photo or Video)
  • Type of Damage (e.g., large-scale housing damage)
  • Analysis of Damage (e.g., 5 houses flooded, 1 damaged roof)
  • GPS coordinates (latitude/longitude)
  • Province
  • Region
  • Date
  • Link to Photo or Video

The vast majority of curated tweets had latitude and longitude coordinates. One SBTF volunteer (“Mapster”) created this map below to plot the data collected. Another Mapster created a similar map, which is available here.

Pablo Crisis Map Twitter Multimedia

The completed database was shared with UN OCHA at 4.55am Geneva time. Our humanitarian colleagues are now in the process of analyzing the data collected and writing up a final report, which they will share with OCHA Philippines today by 5pm Geneva time.

Needless to say, we all learned a lot thanks to the deployment of the Digital Humanitarian Network in the Philippines. This was the first time we were activated to carry out a task of this type. We are now actively reviewing our combined efforts with the concerted aim of streamlining our workflows and methodologies to make this type effort far easier and quicker to complete in the future. If you have suggestions and/or technologies that could facilitate this kind of digital humanitarian work, then please do get in touch either by posting your ideas in the comments section below or by sending me an email.

Lastly, but definitely most importantly, a big HUGE thanks to everyone who volunteered their time to support the UN’s disaster response efforts in the Philippines at such short notice! We want to publicly recognize everyone who came to the rescue, so here’s a list of volunteers who contributed their time (more to be added!). Without you, there would be no database to share with the UN, no learning, no innovating and no demonstration that digital volunteers can and do make a difference. Thank you for caring. Thank you for daring.