Humanitarian Assistance for Haiti

Introduction: Humanitarian assistance for Haiti was organized on APAN in 2010

In January 2010, the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) supported disaster response efforts after an earthquake devastated Haiti. SOUTHCOM used APAN to coordinate efforts with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), foreign governments, and private individuals providing humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) services.

Challenges: Efficient coordination between U.S. military, other governments, private organizations, and individuals was critical for disaster response.

Synchronization between government and NGOs was imperative in order to achieve minimized decision timelines, up-to-date situational awareness and efficient task execution during the crisis. Relief workers in the field needed 24/7 access to shared information from remote locations to do their work with the best information available.

Solutions: By using social media tools to share information in an open environment, the Haiti Response Community achieved unprecedented success providing up-to-date information to all participants.

By request of SOUTHCOM, the Haiti HADR Community was launched on APAN and available within 24 hours of the earthquake. Photos and other files were shared using tags, enabling users to find relevant information quickly. Responders in the field had access to imagery like maps from multiple sources in one location. They could submit their own photos of current on-the-ground conditions in the same media gallery. The conditions of port facilities, transportation, and locations of resources were posted in forums which dramatically reduced the number of emails and phone calls.

Requests for Assistance (RFA) and Requests for Information (RFI) were posted in a central forum for all participants to monitor. Responses posted by organizations, such as the U.S. Department of State, USAID, NGA, the U.S. Navy, and organizations from other nations, could instantly reach hundreds of relief workers. For instance, the Hospital Sacre Coeur in Milot, Haiti was unaffected by the earthquake. It was equipped with a full staff along with 73 available beds, yet four days after the initial earthquake, the hospital had only six patients. Personnel at the hospital used the community to post a message stating beds were available; shortly after, patients started to arrive. Within a week from posting on the Haiti HADR Community, the hospital staff treated nearly 250 severely injured people.

Since contact information was frequently requested throughout the response effort, SOUTHCOM created a wiki page where any organization could update their own contact information, ensuring accuracy and consistency. Participants were empowered to update their own information eliminating bottlenecks and improving communication.  By using a wiki, participants could track when changes were made to the contact information and who made those changes.

Results: Disaster response in Haiti was more efficient than ever.

SOUTHCOM's community for disaster response in Haiti enabled stakeholders to contact military organizers and other participants quickly. The relief workers in Haiti were able to contact SOUTHCOM immediately after the crisis began instead of waiting for special account access or for individual messages to be returned.  APAN’s flexibility to empower users to adjust tools and update content quickly enabled faster and more effective humanitarian assistance and disaster response than ever before.