On 5 December 2012, just hours after Typhoon Bopha made landfall on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, OCHA activated volunteers through its partnership with the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN). They had just 14 hours to find, geo-locate, timestamp and categorize all social media posts of storm-related damage (mainly pictures and videos shared through Twitter), and then deliver a detailed overview to inform the immediate aid response.
Organized through DHN, members of the volunteer groups Humanity Road and the Standby Volunteer Task Force came together in a virtual Solution Team and worked through the night. By 4:55 a.m. the next day, the team had curated about 20,000 social media messages and compiled the results into a single document for OCHA to analyse and turn into useable information products such as maps showing flooding, damage to infrastructure and evacuation centres.
In 2012, DHN volunteers also helped OCHA and the humanitarian community curate data for disaster preparedness in South Sudan, and provide real-time information for needs assessments after Cyclone Evan hit Samoa.
It is becoming increasingly evident that the volume of data produced around a crisis can rapidly outpace the ability of a small number of people to process it. The future will see an increase in the use of digital volunteers analysing vast quantities of data. Through partnerships with groups such as DHN, OCHA is creating important inroads in the way the humanitarian community uses technology and the power of volunteer tech communities.