Improving Disaster Response and Humanitarian Aid in Times of Crisis

Dec 15, 2010, 07:00 ET from Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

New project harnesses technology to create new form of digital volunteerism

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was awarded a two-year, $1.2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support the development of CrisisCommons, a global community of volunteers, researchers, and technologists who aid people and regions in crisis. This community creates "CrisisCamp" events where volunteers of all skill levels can work across borders, languages, and time zones to collaborate on projects, translate languages, build open source technology tools, and aggregate data to provide support for crisis response efforts. During the worldwide response to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, this community organized 63 events across eight countries with more than 2,300 people participating to support such projects as Person Finder, a searchable database of missing persons, and Tradui, the first Creole translation application.

"The Wilson Center is exploring an entirely new model for how to marshal resources in a humanitarian crisis," said Paula Olsiewski, Program Director of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. "By leveraging a new type of digital humanitarianism, CrisisCommons is improving efforts to respond more effectively in crisis situations using new technologies, tools, and volunteer know-how."

The project will include partnering with Oregon State University's Open Source Lab to expand the CrisisCamp infrastructure, developing a research agenda, documenting and disseminating "lessons learned" from technology volunteers, and organizing open forums through events such as the International CrisisCongress.

The project will focus on key research issues that need to be addressed to improve public and private collaboration in crisis response and global development. "We are operating at the intersection of bricks-and-mortar and virtual organizations, which will provide fertile ground for research in areas ranging from organizational design to privacy and data standards," said David Rejeski, who directs the Wilson Center's Science and Technology Innovation Program.

Heather Blanchard, a co-founder of CrisisCommons and principal investigator on the new grant, said, "Our community is absolutely thrilled for the opportunity to work with the Sloan Foundation and the Wilson Center. We believe in the power of people and their ability to collaborate and bring new ideas to bear in crisis situations. By working with crisis response organizations prior to, during, and beyond crises, CrisisCommons can nurture a culture of innovation and encourage information sharing, dialogue, experimentation, and the creation of collaborative systems."

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution was established in 1968 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. It is a nonpartisan institution, supported by public and private funds engaged in the study of national and world affairs. For more information about the Wilson Center please visit

CrisisCommons, is dedicated to supporting the CrisisCamp community, empowering the digital humanitarian, and facilitating innovation in crisis management through volunteerism, connectivity, dialogue, research, public policy, and technology. For more information on CrisisCommons or how to create a CrisisCamp, please visit

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, established in 1934, makes grants to support original research and broad-based education related to science, technology, and economic performance; and to improve the quality of American life. The Foundation believes that a carefully reasoned and systematic understanding of the forces of nature and society, when applied inventively and wisely, can lead to a better world for all. Please visit the Foundation's Web site at

SOURCE Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars