A screenshot shows the locations of Hatian Creole volunteers who have translated 40,000 text messages

What an interesting use of new technology!

Within hours of the earthquake that crushed Port-au-Prince January 12, Haitians in peril could send text messages for help over cell phones to a newly created emergency response number, 4636. It was the rough equivalent of the 911 emergency response number in the United States — and literally was set up overnight.

Utilizing Ushahidi — a Web portal born in 2008 to help citizen activists track post-election violence in Kenya — volunteers around the world who speak French and Creole translated thousands of messages, mapped where the calls came from and directed the most urgent pleas to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Red Cross and other relief and rescue agencies.

Against the enormous scale of suffering and loss in Haiti, and the bottlenecks in delivering food and medicine to survivors, this seems like a modest triumph. It could become the model for tapping digital technology — from mobile phones to creative software and social networking applications — to speed help in future catastrophes.

For related items, see The Americas: Partnering for Haiti Relief and Recovery and the America.gov feature The Power of a Mobile Phone.

Read the full article here.