Crisis Cleanup helps coordinate disaster responders

View of the Crisis Cleanup interface

View of the Crisis Cleanup interface

Crisis Cleanup is easily one of the most exciting innovations I have come across in a while: it’s a web based system that helps to coordinate the efforts of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations after a disaster.

Crisis Cleanup is trying to solve a set of problem that anyone who has worked in a disaster is familiar with:

  • Who needs helps?
  • How do you make sure, that someone is addressing these needs?
  • How do you make sure, that work is neither duplicated nor forgotten?
  • How do you do all of this, without a massive amount of dedicated coordination staff?

Crisis Cleanup’s approach is based on their experience with voluntary organizations in the US, but it could easily be adapted for large scale disasters with international organizations and NGOs.

Bottom up approach to coordination

Aaron Titus, one of the people behind Crisis Cleanup, quickly realized that independent voluntary organizations would not react well to a “command and control” type of system. So he created a system that collects needs and allows organizations to log in and take ownership of specific tasks.

This approach has a number of obvious advantages:

  • Authorised users can log into the system, see all open tasks and decide which ones to accept. These tasks are then marked as “claimed” and locked for other organizations.
  • Instead of driving to a coordination meeting, organizations can claim tasks remotely.
  • Any authorised user can quickly see in which geographic area tasks have already been claimed and which areas still need additional resources.
  • Icons help to identify sectors that are underserved.
  • People who need help, can find out whether someone has already committed to helping them.
  • The system makes the provision of aid more transparent and organizations more accountable.

You can “play” with a demo version of Crisis Cleanup here.

Crisis Cleanup – Introduction

A general introduction to the things that Crisis Cleanup is trying to address. This will feel very familiar to disaster responders.

A solution for the “Who, What, Where” (3W) of disaster response?

Crisis Cleanup is currently designed for the specific work that voluntary organizations do in the US after disasters, i.e. mainly cleaning up, removing trees etc. But there is no reason, why this system could not be expanded to other activities. I could very well imagine that Crisis Cleanup could be used to map the needs in different sectors in communities or camps in an emergency and used to drive an interactive 3W-matrix, which is one of the basic coordination tools that are produced in any disaster.

The system itself is open source, built on the GoogleApp Engine and the people behind Crisis Cleanup are very keen to share their experience and find other people to collaborate with (OCHA – I’m looking at you). Not surprisingly they are also looking for funding because they are currently doing all of this in their spare time.

Worksheets and assessment forms on the fly

One of the things I really like about Crisis Cleanup is that it not only provides information about the tasks that organizations have accepted, but that it can create individual, printable worksheets and assessment forms on the fly for each task and location. While, in theory, it would be nice to do everything paperless, the reality is that paper is still a great tool, particularly in countries with spotty IT infrastructure.

Crisis Cleanup – a tour of the system itself

A quick walk through the system.

As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about what Aaron and his team have developed and I really hope that someone will find the time and the money to support and expand the system.

(h/t to Kim Stephens)