On the evening of March 13, 2015 Tropical Cyclone Pam - an extremely destructive category 5 cyclone, struck Vanuatu causing serious damage to 22 islands across the archipelago. As of March 26, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) reported that around 15,000 homes were destroyed or damaged in the provinces of Penama, Malampa, Shefa and Tafea, 75,000 were in need of emergency shelter and 166,000 people were in need of some form of humanitarian assistance
In response to a request for support from the OCHA on March 13, PeaceGeeks and other members of the Digital Humanitarians Network activated emergency support teams to help collect information about the situation on the ground towards helping responders to make effective decisions around how to deploy humanitarian resources.
The request asked for three key areas of support:
- Getting locations of injured people, infrastructure damage, interrupted water supply, damaged health facilities etc. (data and crisis map)
- Searching for posts from traditinal media and social media about the storm, including identifying pictures and videos of damage and flooding (locate, verify and categorize the content)
- Collecting the 3W's - who, what, where - for the response.
PeaceGeeks, in partnership with GISCorps, MapAction and Humanity Road led on task #1 and played a support role on tasks #2 towards supporting early response efforts.
Maps Produced During Activation:
Over the course of two weeks, 4 key maps were produced by this team:
Image Category Clickers and Geoclickers - Images from social media and news outlets were categorized to indicate damage and geolocated. This resulted in an ArcGIS Online Map with a summary the damage a Story Map by the StandBy Task Force and a MicroMappers map
Vanuatu Basemap Layers - Shapefiles were downloaded from Humanitarian Response and turned into feature layers on ArcGIS Online for basemap information such as island names, administrative boundaries, and roads.
Social Media Early Indications Map - The above updates were summarized to indicate impact on each island of Vanuatu on an ArcGIS Online Map.
Translation and Local Knowledge:
A number of volunteers were brought in via PeaceGeeks who had local knowledge of Vanuatu. This played a key role in assisting with translation, local names and verification of information. This will the first time a DHN activation specifically aimed to recruit people with local knowledge, and it was broadly agreed that this provided a significant boost in strengthening the quality of the information provided.
These tools play a key role in helping humanitarian responders, including UN-OCHA, the government of Vanuatu, humanitarian organizations and local organizations, to effectively deploy resources to the affected areas.
As of March 23, there were still 4 islands where there had been no contact at all since Pam. Efforts were underway to source satellite data to assess the level of damage. In addition, PeaceGeeks continues to be in direct contact with the government of Vanuatu regarding setting up an SMS-based reporting mechanism to assist with collecting information and reports from the islands on an on-going basis.
Want to volunteer with PeaceGeeks?
If you are interested in participating in future activations like this one with PeaceGeeks, we would love to have you and encourage you to register through our website. We activate our Emergency Response Team in three main scenarios:
- during humanitarian crisis such as conflicts and natural disasters
- during elections, referendums and political crisis
- to support displaced populations
To join our volunteer team, click here!
By Shannon Cox