February 29, 2012 By Elaine Pittman
What began as an attempt to learn how to best use technology in disasters became CrisisCommons, a global network of technical volunteers who help emergency responders and organizations. CrisisCommons co-founders Heather Blanchard, Noel Dickover and Andrew Turner met at a Transparency Camp event in 2009 and began gauging interest among their tech community peers in volunteering their talents to help with disaster response.
In June 2009, a user-generated conference called a CrisisCamp brought together 200 people to discuss the topic. But it was the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake that put the idea into action. Five days after the earthquake, more than 400 people in five cities worked on 13 tech-related projects. The following week, 14 more camps were held, and within 15 weeks, there were
65 camps in 10 countries, Blanchard said. Projects included creating a translation app and contributing to an open source map of the damage in Port-au-Prince.
CrisisCommons has become a liaison between response organizations and technical volunteers. To allow the organization to evolve, Blanchard and Dickover stepped down in January, saying that it’s time for new ideas to pave the way forward. But they’re still entrenched in the belief that the tech community can partner with others for untold benefits. Turner continues his work with CrisisCommons, while also serving as CTO for technology firm FortiusOne.
“I think the thing that CrisisCommons has done more than anything else,” Dickover said, “is give people the idea that you don’t have to be in a crisis to make a difference.”
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