Volunteer and technical communities in humanitarian response: lessons in digital humanitarianism from Typhoon Haiyan.

Author:Weinandy, Thomas J.

"Powered by cloud-, crowd-, and SMS-based technologies, individuals can now engage in disaster response at an unprecedented level. Traditional relief organizations, volunteers, and affected communities alike can, when working together, provide, aggregate and analyze information that speeds, targets and improves humanitarian relief."

Ted Turner, Chairman of the United Nations Foundation, "Disaster Relief 2.0: the future of information sharing in humanitarian emergencies". (1)

As the cost of information and communications technologies continues on its downward trajectory, we have increasingly seen a digital revolution that spurs change from within local populations to international agencies. The world is further connecting as masses go online to seek information and utilize tools to amplify their voices. Humanitarian organizations respond to the new opportunities afforded by the Internet and other digital technologies to navigate challenges and exploit innovative solutions amid this dynamic landscape. This was no more evident than when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013. The event offers a unique perspective on a situation in which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) utilized new forms of engagement to improve humanitarian response through collaboration with Volunteer and Technical Communities (V&TCs).


The year 2010 was definitive in the history of humanitarian response. That year, an ad hoc group of online volunteers responded to the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti, by creating a live Crisis Map (2) that would eventually be widely used by responding organizations. This group demonstrated, for the first time, that V&TCs acting outside of the established humanitarian sector could play a key role in coordinating information during a natural disaster. As V&TCs began to evolve into more formal organizations with defined procedures and standards, the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) was formed to provide an interface between V&TCs and professional NGOs. (3)

The humanitarian community was in a state of evolution by 8 November 2013 when one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded made landfall in the Philippines, affecting an estimated 14 million people. The response to Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) required an unprecedented level of coordination as local, governmental and international organizations worked amid a communications infrastructure severely damaged by the...

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