Connecting Disaster Response Volunteers

There’s a new Disaster Response Innovation Fund, explicitly attempting to draw on the 2015 Nepal earthquake’s lesson. And I am kind of heartbroken that the drone cargo idea did not go through.

Funding of up to £300,000 per project is available and applicants should be either seed projects to test new products or services, or market validation projects to replicate proven products or service.

The application is lightweight: just a concept note for the first stage (deadline: 13th October). The main issue would be building a coalition with at least two mobile phone companies. Maybe @nadia, via Gunnar, can access some in Africa? Or people at Robotics Nepal can talk to Nepali companies?


Neither the cargo drone nor the Kafal Local Media Server idea is good for this, as they are not mobile network based, and not disaster focused either. But we have our research results from the citizen-driven disaster response in Nepal 2015. One of our recommendations there, in the very last paragraph of the main text, is a “phone-based coordination and assessment tool” to coordinate this citizen driven response better. I think that’s a good idea for this call. We can include that we “prototyped” this idea already (which is kind of true, as Nick told me they took up our recommendation for the Tbilisi floods, where they did run such a hotline number.


Applications must represent a collaboration consisting of two or more mobile network operators, NGOs, humanitarian agencies, emergency/environmental bodies and/or private sector companies. [source]

So we only need one consortium partner and are good to go. Can be another company. Perhaps we can even contact this lady from UN India’s innovation department we talked to in a Skype call after the Nepal earthquake (forgot the name … @alberto was also present I remember …).

Can do. Are you ready to get down to work?

Frankly, no. But we have an assistant who is :slight_smile: It’s about a ≤5 pp. concept note and a project proposed to happen in her country, so it’s an easy start and an opportunity to learn. I’d like to try how well that goes, and of course I’ll edit Anu’s work afterwards.

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Moving this to its own category, so we can further discuss and work there together with @anu.

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Ok, so the first question is: how do we procure two mobile phone companies as partners?

Rather, how do we procure one company. I think you read that part of the call the wrong way. See my comment above.

Makes sense. Ok, so I am asking @nadia to ask Gunnar to make contact with a mobile phone company. Do you have any contacts in Nepal? This would be ideal. Worst case scenario, I can also ask in Italy but…

Also: applicants need to put in some matching funds (source). This can be done in kind, however (“For example: a contractual agreement of support from a local incubator (providing the equivalent monetary value of the service”). The most natural arrangement is that the phone company would put some of its own money and infrastructure (I have no idea what you have in mind and how such infrastructure can be brought to bear), and we would deploy people.

Is this a deal breaker, or do I go ahead with the partner search?

The match funding seems doable, as it can be about committing worktime for us (the effective result being lower rates for the worktime that gets paid for by the funding, if received). And for the mobile network company, it could be as simple as providing a freecall number with unlimited free airtime, for the hotline system I have in mind.

About contacts, we have one indirect contact to Ncell Nepal that I could try to utilize. But rather improbable to work. Will try, but let’s also try others in parallel. If we end up with more than two parties in the consortium, it is not a problem.

A good candidate for a local partner is Kathmandu Living Labs, an open data and IT infrastructure company in Nepal that has provided crowdsourcing map solutions to volunteers after both the earthquake and the recent floods.

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Do you think we could ask UNDP Nepal CO to connect us with a Nepali mobile company? I think it would be a lot more natural. It does not make sense that the mobile company is in Abidjan and the team is in Kathmandu…

This is what will happen. Because our contact is from UNDP Nepal, and they have worked extensively with Ncell. (Nepal has only two mobile operators, private Ncell and government-owned NTC. Ncell has a reputation of being open to innovative ideas, NTC not so much … .)

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Just talked to Millie at UNDP. She is happy to call Sophie (deputy Head) at UNDP Nepal and ask her if they can connect us with a mobile operator there.

Also: turns out that UNDP Armenia has a solid relationship with two mob operators AND a broad disaster response programme. So, if you want to do this in Armenia (or even in two countries) it could be a good match. BTW, I’ll be in Yerevan… Monday!

Could you write one or two paragraphs to describe the core concept? We can then pass them on to Millie.

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Here’s my proposed concept note:

Based on our study of community-driven disaster management for UNDP Nepal after the 2015 earthquake, we propose a coordination system for volunteer disaster responders. It would be accessible by a phone hotline, SMS text messages, instant messaging services and a website, and staffed on demand by pre-trained volunteers working from their home or office. Staff would answer volunteer responders’ questions by searching in information systems of their own and (if possible) also of professional disaster responders from the UN system. They would also record reports by volunteer responders about local damage and needs, road conditions etc., and relay them to the information systems of professional disaster responders.

This uses readily available mobile and Internet communication technology to bridge the information gap between volunteer responders and professionals, which exists currently because volunteer responders have neither the training, Internet connectivity, patience or formal obligation to coordinate via structured data input into software applications.

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Update: We have a concept paper now, to share with UNDP Nepal (and after adaptations with other organizations who might want to join the partnership):

@anu have a look :slight_smile: You can create a copy of the document and adapt that into something that you can send to Kathmandu Living Labs.

Also note the time plan as mentioned in that document: turns out we do not need to finalize any partnership or match funding agreement before the full application, which is due 2017-12-01 and only if our concept note is successful and we’re invited to that second stage of the application process.

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I have got in touch with KILL (Kathmandu Living Labs) and also sent them email along with our concept note. I also found out that KILL office will remain close from September 27th to October 4th because of big festival. I will update more information once they respond to my email :slight_smile:

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Note to self:

It is a new type of mass collaboration software, so may find other uses beyond disaster response (volunteer refugee assistance, volunteer anti-terrorism activities, political activism and campaigning etc.). Some of these will provide a business model to fund the maintenance and further development of the software while keeping it free of charge and open source for all users. [Concept Note]

When keeping these other uses in mind in the design phase, it could become a really interesting piece of software that open / distributed movements like to use. It would allow organizing any kind of localized geospatial mass action, such as: disaster response (of course), OpenStreetMap mapathons, trash cleanup campaigns (LetsDoIt World etc.), crowdsourced Search-And-Rescue missions, political demonstrations, non-violent resistance and civil disobedience campaigns, trail making campaigns, urban games, large festivals and concerts.

And some other ideas:

  • SMS communication protocol. The disaster response coordination app for mobile phones would be able to communicate both via Internet and, when that is unavailable, via SMS for the basic functions. A custom short data format (JSON etc.) is enough to submit structured reports tied to geolocations, for example about road blocks, damage assessment etc… For even better bandwidth use, the SMS would be compressed. For communication integrity, the receipt of the SMS would be acknowledged by SMS from the receiver, either automatically every 10 SMS (using checksums), or on request.

  • With the app, it should also be possible to send questions to the disaster response coordination hotline, and receive answers. These would be structured questions, encoded in compact format by the app into one SMS each. In total, it would be a well-defined communication protocol using only SMS.

  • In the app, have a function for PTT voice messaging. Allows to use network connectivity when available, and avoids voice quality issues. No need to congest the network with frequent tries for voice calls.

  • The proposed software could / should be developed as a generic, agile, distributed project management solution that will also be used for managing individual OpenVillage houses, the OpenVillage network, and Edgeryders as a company.
      Different from other solutions, this one will focus on “agile” and also “localization”: everyone can create and execute projects, and is presented with a pool of people with registered skills, a pool of resources with availability schedules and booking options, and knowledge about local needs and conditions (including road conditions etc.). There will be no upfront task decomposition or critical path planning, rather everything is done “as fast as posssible” and in an agile manner.

  • Another way to combine it with our own needs: the idea is here to develop the disaster response information system in a modular way so that it can also be configured for use as a “Community Resource Planning System” (“CRP system”). It’s like an ERP system in companies, but for networks of households and other units, geared to make a living together with as little resource use as possible and in mutual solidarity.
      Here, we need this as the central software for OpenVillage Houses. Each would be one organizational unit in the system, similar to volunteer responder groups.
     Modules would include:

    • road and transport conditions (disaster response feature)
    • damage assessment and local needs (disaster response feature)
    • collaborative logistics for people and things (ride sharing, multi-hop travelling etc.)
    • marketplace
    • rentals, only with PayCoupons as payment option
    • services, only with PayCoupons as payment option
    • products, with money and PayCoupons as payment options
    • junk (trash, parts etc.), with money and PayCoupons as payment options or for free