About the Author: Katie Stanton works in the Office of Innovation at the U.S. Department of State.
Today, the State Department is hosting the Haiti Tech Meet-Up Conference to highlight the tech efforts used to assist individuals in the aftermath of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the State Department worked with a group of engineers from the tech community to launch a free SMS relief information service to help people in Haiti. The text message program allowed people with cell phones to text their location and their need to a free short code: "4636" (INFO). The first panel of the conference, SMS Help!, was dedicated to learning how the service worked to save lives in Haiti, and how we can improve the service to rebuild a better Haiti, as well as prepare for future crises.
Carline Cazeau, a Haitian-American and President of Altimax Solutions, LLC, moderated the panel featuring Rob Munro, Denise Rosalind Sewell, and Luke Beckman. The speakers demonstrated and discussed their innovations. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the speakers described how disaster relief platforms collaborated to geolocate mobile messages and provide survivors with critical information. By texting "4636," the data was quickly collected and accessed by several workers and volunteers, who translated the Kreyol and French messages into English. The messages were then distributed to emergency responders and aid organizations who located survivors and directed the food, water, and medicine to them.
There are countless success stories demonstrating how the service helped in the aftermath of the earthquake. Josh Nesbit, Director of Frontline SMS Medic, said that a health clinic used the service to request diesel fuel to keep their generator running.
It has now been four months since 35 seconds changed the course of a nation. We have now transitioned from immediate relief to long-term development. At the Haiti Donors Conference on March 31, Secretary Clinton announced the United States' pledge of over $1.5 billion to rebuild Haiti. As we move forward, it is important that we take what we learned from our Haiti experience so we can process information and provide help and assistance in future disasters.
Join the conversation on Twitter, #HaitiTech. We invite you to submit a question or comment on how technology can help rebuild Haiti.