CrisisCamp began as an idea for an event to bring together people who were interested in leveraging technology and telecommunications systems to assist communities in times of crisis. In June 2009 the first CrisisCamp was held in Washington DC as an open forum for practitioners, first responders, humanitarian aid workers, technologies, academia and the private sector to come to together to explore opportunities to enhance the capabilities of citizens, communities and crisis response organizations capability and capacity to response to, recover from, mitigate against and prepare for crises. This event featured the World Bank hosting an Ignite Session and sponsoring the kick off of the CrisisCamp events. Highlights include a panel discussion between Google, Yahoo and Microsoft which resulted in the formation of a partnership with the World Bank called Random Hacks of Kindness. USAID formed a partnership with GeoCommons and Development Seed to track acts of violence in the 2009 Afghanistan elections and Temple University hosted the second CrisisCamp focused on exploring how technology can assist persons with special needs during crisis events.
On January 12, 2010 Haiti was struck with a devastating earthquake. Within minutes of the news, the informal networks which supported the first CrisisCamp event began to connect with both formal and informal organizations and individuals to answer the question, “What can we do to help?” Within 24 hours of the earthquake, CrisisCamp announced it would host two CrisisCamps the following Saturday. Three other cities created CrisisCamps in California, New York and Colorado. The next week 13 other cities around the world joined in to create CrisisCamp events in their cities. Since then there have been over 63 CrisisCamp events in 28 cities across eight countries who supported the Haiti and Chilean earthquakes alone. Since then, the community has rallied and provided support and attracted new volunteers to support response efforts to assist Pakistan, Nashville and Thailand floods and the Gulf Coast Oil Spill.
Technology volunteers worked together to build tools, search and translate data and solve unique challenges brought forth by the crisis. For example, projects supporting Haiti included creating a hack to expand long distance Wi-Fi connectivity, development of the first Kreyol mobile translation application “Tradui,” a online social network to connect Haitian diaspora “New Haiti Project,” CrisisCamp provided supported for other existing volunteer technology communities whose projects or volunteers were supporting the Haiti response efforts such as CrisisMappers, OpenStreetMap, Sahana Foundation (Free and Open Source Disaster Management System) and Ushahidi. For example, many CrisisCamps hosted mapping sessions to contribute edits to the the first post-earthquake basemap of Port au Prince. Many of these volunteers had never contributed to a mapping project so tools like “I Map Haiti” were created from existing Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team guidance to help CrisisCamp volunteers to quickly learn how to map crisis data for the OpenStreetMap community. At CrisisCamp Boston, a team of volunteers helped the Ushahidi team repurpose an existing “RT” ticket tracking system to help improve workflow information to be mapped in Ushahidi system. What took a four-person team to produce 30-40 messages in a day, using RT system, the Ushahidi team was able post 150 new reports to increase efficiency of the workflow.
As a result of these efforts the community began exploring lessons learned to improve upon the performance, relevance and efficiencies as well as the capacity and capability of CrisisCamp events. Many crisis response organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations and the Red Cross suggested that the the time to create relationships, explore potential problem definitions and share lessons learned was during the times inbetween crises. It is frequently said, “That the time to exchange business cards is not in the middle of a disaster.” This again signaled the need for a more permanent, long-term coordination capability. The concept of CrisisCommons began to evolve to address the need for greater capacity to work with crisis response organizations on a long-term basis and to improve and grow the capability of CrisisCamp events and technology volunteer contributions to crisis management and global development.
CrisisCommons builds upon and supports CrisisCamp to advance the inclusion of lessons learned (from volunteer technology communities), dialogue and exercises, collaborative prototypes and toolsets, best practices, data and technical standards development to build a participatory and innovation culture supporting crisis management and global development. The Commons seeks to institutionalize a liaison role to connect current and future volunteer technology communities to crisis management structures such as the UN Cluster system. The Commons will work to provide better problem definitions — in advance of crisis — by working with crisis response organizations to help develop problem definitions for CrisisCamp and our friends within the volunteer technology communities to harness the interest and technical capability of the “crisis crowd” during crisis events. Ultimately, CrisisCommons seeks to provide a virtual and physical forum to bring together communities, advance innovation in (both technology and business processes) to create capability, capacity and and greater situational awareness for crisis response organizations, diasporas and informal networks who seek to aid people in crisis.