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Last week I was able to attend which was being hosted in my home town of Auckland. This was a great chance to spend time with people from the open source community from New Zealand, Australia and around the world.

I was part of the Open Source for Humanitarian Tech Miniconf (, which also included, along with Kate Chapman from the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team (HOT), Noel Taylor from Map My Rights and Chris Daley who has worked for a number of humanitarian organizations. If you’re interested, here’s a copy of my slides and a video of my presentation:

The Community Leadership Summit gave me a couple of ideas for recognizing the outstanding efforts of the our Community: Firstly I’m going to share more of the success stories which show how valuable the contributions people make to Sahana are (Watch this space!). Secondly I’ve tried to update to indicate the sort of contributions that are most appreciated and how they are recognized: If your code is merged into trunk – that’s a valuable contribution. If you’ve closed a ticket, updated the wiki docs, written tests for the code and helping others on the mailing list – then that’s REALLY valuable). If you’ve got other ideas, please leave a comment!

Former Sahana board member Leslie Hawthorn gave an insightful presentation on “Checking Your Privilege” (Slides / Video). After this presentation and a number of side conversation about diversity I really want to make sure that Sahana is doing everything we can to support an inclusive environment. Chamindra de Silva and Leslie Hawthorn are currently working to draft a code of conduct. Once again, if you’ve got other ideas, please leave a comment or send me an email (

“The beaches are purely white, the waves washing sandcastles away on the way out to the open sea, while the inhabitants of this paradise; that in daily day life is known as part of the Indian Ocean, are in a hurry to entertain the hundred of thousands of tourists that each year return to enjoy the sea, while their children run around to play in the sand.”

Today it is ten years since the 2004 tsunami struck ten countries in South Asia, and around 280,000 people from all over the world lost their lives. The devastation was enormous, and for years the communities throughout the region have struggled to rebuild itself.

We feel today along with the hundreds of thousands – if not millions of people, of which this day is a constant reminder of the loss of their loved ones ten years ago.

In the stern wave of this disaster came the idea of creating a disaster management software product based on free and open source software. As in so many other tragic situations where human intuition and creative power is expressed, this was the beginning of Sahana Software Foundation.

While this event gives us a moment to reflect on, we need to remind ourselves about the millions of people who are affected by disasters around the world every year. And as organisations and emergency managers have experienced through the past decade, disaster management has changed since 2004, becoming more and more community focused and data driven. Sahana Software Foundation will continue to strive to be at the front of these developments.

With the highest consideration and reverence,
Martin Thomsen

Sahana’s Ebola Response

In August the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as an international public health emergency. Although media attention to the outbreak has decreased, the number of people who have died from Ebola (6,856 to date) continues to grow.

Unlike most natural disasters where there is an initial death toll which then drops exponentially as conditions return to normal, the death toll of a disease outbreak has the risk to grow exponentially – unless we do something about it.

A number of Sahana’s existing features can be used to make the responses from organizations and communities more effective and efficient:

  • Personnel / Human Resources – to help manage the people who are fighting Ebola, (who are Time Magazine’s 2014 People of the Year ) keeping track of who is available, where they are and what skills they have.
  • Logistics Management – to track what supplies are needed, where they are available and request them for where they are needed.
  • Hospital + Health Facility Management – to manage locations including their status, capacities and requirements.
  • Who’s Doing What Where – to support coordination and collaboration between different organizations responding to the Ebola outbreak.

We’ve monitored the situation and reached out to existing partners to identify organizations wanting to deploy Sahana. We’re participating in a number of the forums organized by members of the Digital Humanitarian Network and Stand By Task Force to keep up to speed with the requirements of the international volunteer technology community.

During an emergency response we have to find the responsible balance between ensuring that organizations on the ground know how Sahana can help them and ensuring that we do not distract or interfere with their response operations. Although the greatest need for information management tools is during an emergency response, this is also when there is the least time for organizations to implement these solutions.

To showcase how Sahana could help organizations, Fran Boon set up this Sahana Demo Site:

Sahana Ebola Response Demo Site

Fran’s been working hard to import baseline location and demographic data as well as the latest data on the outbreak. This has given us the opportunity to test the new HXL protocol for data integration.

After hearing that tracing people that Ebola patients had been in contact with was a challenge, we were able to quickly develop a contact tracing and monitoring module in Sahana. This demonstrates the power of Sahana’s rapid application development (RAD) framework and our volunteer community!

For more information you can see our wiki page on the Sahana Ebola Response:

We’re connecting with numerous groups interested in using Sahana to support their Ebola response work and are currently working with groups in Sierra Leone and Liberia to identify how Sahana could be deployed there. Through careful planning and implementation these solutions can support the response to this growing crisis and sustainably improve the health care systems in these countries. We look forward to sharing more about these projects as they develop in the new year.


I had the pleasure of attending the International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM) in my home town of New York City.  I was particularly excited about this event because I provide emergency management solutions to nonprofits in the New York City area, and I see lots of opportunities for these organizations to adopt some of the better practices and software tools being developed by the international humanitarian scene.  So it makes me really happy when an event like ICCM comes to my town.


Photo Credit: Fumi Yamazaki

The event was amazing: bringing together people from a variety of humanitarian focused organizations, including OEMs from around the world, software companies, humanitarian aid organizations, open source projects and lots of folks from the volunteer “crowd sourcerer” community – groups including Standby Task Force, Digital Humanitarians, and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap.

On the first day, there was a tour of NYC’s EOC (emergency operations center), which I missed to attend sessions about grassroots community resilience organized by GreenMaps and citizen science by PublicLab.

GreenMaps is a decades old project based out of NYC that helps communities around the world map their sustainable features. The organization focused initially on print maps, creating icons for specific types of sustainable features (like community gardens) and facilitating real world mapping sessions within communities. They toured us around the Lower East Side, and explained how community gardens, anarchist squats and community organizing spaces enable them to defend themselves for all types of disasters. Their human technology is amazing, but their computer technology is stuck in Drupal 6 (such a common story) and they need an upgrade.

PublicLab supports a community of “DIY scientists” by developing software, hardware and curriculum that drops the costs associated with scientific experimentation. During their session, we used a cleverly designed piece of cardboard and some of their open source software to turn our smart phones into spectrometers we then used to determine whether a water sample was contaminated with petrochemicals. While environmental tests could be useful for disaster relief and recovery, more interesting is that the depth in which PublicLab community members collaborate online. They can actually get people around the world to use specific tools to follow complicated processes that result in scientifically relevant outcomes. It’s a really interested, and complicated crowd sourced process worth exploring.

Day two consisted of a series of short talks by innovative smaller organizations and longer ones by established institutions. I was left with a sense that the folks at the small organizations were optimists working on underfunded projects that were often focused on empowering communities to solve their own problems while the institutional folks were pessimists struggling to remain effective within the landscape of large humanitarian aid bureaucracies.

This day two presentations and conversation surrounding them got me thinking about how the crowd sourced volunteering phenomenon unfolding in humanitarian aid, represented by the activities of group like Standby Task Force and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, is similar open source software movement and the civic technology one.  I’ll discuss that more in a subsequent post about uniting humanitarian and civic technologies.

In the afternoon I attended a “deeper dive” session about open source drone mapping, led by the founder of OpenDroneMap.  Apparently it’s become quite easy to automate the process of flying a drone, taking photos of a specific area, and weave those photos together to create a two dimensional map.  The next step is use those same basic processes to create a three dimensional model of the space.  There are many uses for this: from architectural surveys to search and rescue, and of course, creating immersive virtual environments of real places.  <cliche> With drones, the sky truly is the limit.</cliche>

In conclusion: the event was remarkable.  The people who attended were passionate. The technologies presented were powerful and disruptive – and the disruption is only just beginning.  We’ll need more people, more technology and a lot more collaboration within the “open humanitarian” community to truly shake up the standard operating procedures still in effect throughout the industry, but we’re certainly on our way.

Photo Credit: Fumi Yamazaki


Last week I was invited by OCHA to attend the Asia Regional Business Consultation in Bangkok to be part of discussions about how to improve collaboration and better-targeted private sector support in emergencies. These were interesting conversations to be a part of as Sahana has always sought to engage a diverse range of stakeholders.

RBC Group Photo

The consultation was split into three sessions on:

  • Business – Humanitarian Partnership Hub
  • Good Practice in inclusive preparedness planning
  • Meeting immediate requirements in large-scale disasters

There was an presentation from the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDFR) about the work they have been doing, particularly after Typhoon Haiyan bring together often competing companies to fundraise and collaborate on delivering programs. For example, they have been working with Hewlett-Packard (HP) to establish two e-health centers in the affected areas.

We also heard about the work that DHL has been doing to support OCHA, both in providing logistics support in response to disasters and also in their “Get Airports Ready for Disaster” (GARD) preparedness program to increase the capacity of airports after natural disasters.

An idea was also proposed for a “Disaster Relief Exchange” to be a centralized platform to share information on supplies and needs for Agencies, suppliers, NGOs and donors. I’m already talking to the stakeholders to see if Sahana could be used to build or integrate with the platform.

One of the most interesting ideas was the idea of “Key Immediate Needs” being developed by OCHA. Based on analysis of the final Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) applications of 31 emergencies (Great use of data!) it was determined that 77% of funding was for Food, Health, Shelter/Non Food Items (NFIs) and Water Health and Sanitation (WASH).

These categories were further broken down into a list of the items that are required at the different stages of an emergency with could be provided by the private sector. This list would be a great starting point to populate data in Sahana for the items that may be requested.

Key Immediate Needs

These are still being refined further and there was some discussion about the level to which these items need to be customized to different contexts in different countries. There was also some discussion about whether it was better to think about this in terms of services needing to be provided to affected populations rather than just asking for items.

This would give a more holistic perspective and create for better engagement with the private sector and opportunities for innovative delivery of these services.

Please feel free to share any of your thought in the comments of this blog.

Like all gatherings, some of the more engaging conversations happened between the sessions. We heard that one of businesses represented at the consultation had 500,000 employees and agents in the region. This lead to a conversation about how this trusted network could be used for the dissemination and collection of information between traditional humanitarian actors and communities. This is an initial overview of how government agencies could provide hazard information such as weather warnings and tsunami alerts to businesses o help them better prepare. During the response, businesses collect information about the status and needs of their facilities, employees and communities which they are a part of. This information could be disseminated back to government agencies and traditional humanitarian actors to coordinate the response effort.

Businesses are affected by disasters as well, and have incentives to mitigate their impact and recover quickly. Larger businesses have entire Business continuity planning (BCP) teams who are responsible for managing this. Although humanitarian-business collaboration starts as a conversation with corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments, I think that if this shifted to engaged BCP teams this could lead to much more mutually beneficial collaboration.

Regardless, the first step to collaboration is sharing information, and this is something which Sahana will continue to facilitate.

Thanks to all your effort throughout our a comprehensive community planning process we now have a Strategic Plan for the next year: . This is a high level overview:

I would like to thank the following people who contributed to the process by providing input, contributing to the discussion and feedback throughout: Devin Balkind, Fran Boon, Don Cameron, Chamindra de Silva, Ramindu Deshapriya, John Fisher, Graeme Foster, Doug Hanchard, Michael Howden, Somay Jain, Michael Joseph, Dominic König, Tim McNamara, Sandy Pabilonia, Jacqueline Parisi, Louiqa Raschid, Nuwan Waidyanatha, Martin Thomsen, Pat Tressel and Connie White.

I’m really happy to be at this point and am looking forward to the next steps we can take to move the Sahana forward. Over the next weeks my focus will be to work to moved forward:

  • Engage Potential Major Donors
  • Develop Sahana Partnership Framework
  • Establish Sahana Response Support Team
  • Prepare & Circulate Draft Sahana Local Cluster Guidelines
  • Implement Fundraising Plan

Please get in touch if you’re interested in actively contributing to move any of these forward, otherwise we will share specific opportunities to contribute as we move forward.

VMware Sahana Usability Review

Over the past months, Rafae Aziz, Danny Walcoff and a team from VMware have worked on a UI/UX Review of Sahana through a series a of half-day sprints.


Sahana has been deployed as customized solution in a wide number of different contexts, so to focus their review the VMware team reviewed the Los Angeles Community Resilience Tool and Puget Sound Maritime Common Operating Picture templates of the Sahana Eden Open Source Disaster Management software.

After their first sprint they came up with a proposed set of wireframes, which were designed with a mobile first strategy. This was an valuable perspective for the Sahana community as until now we’ve been primarily focused on a desktop user interface. These wireframes were shared on the Sahana mailing list, and served as a good catalyst to for the community to explore a number of ideas, including using an inbox-like “News Feed” to present more information and the challenges of supporting multiple different workflows for different types of users.

In the second sprint the VMware team were able to dive deeper in our homepage, reviewing how it could be made more useful and easily customizable for specific context.

Working with the VMware team was a great opportunity for us to look at our software from a design approach. Because Sahana is used in so many different contexts, we do face a challenge of identifying the specific types of the users and workflows we’re designing solutions for. We’ve already begun work documenting some of these requirements and we’ll continue this as we move forward with our planned release of Sahana Eden 1.0.

We’d like to thank the VMware team and also Emma Irwin and Celine Takatsuno from the SocialCoding4Good for matching them with Sahana and making this all possible. We’re look forward to more collaboration like this the continued evolution of Sahana.

The Sahana Software Foundation is holding its Software Development Internship Program again this year from 13th October 2014 until 13th March 2015. This is a virtual internship and is open to applicants from any country. This program was highly successful last year, with two of the interns, Arnav Sharma and Somay Jain going on to participant in the Google Summer of Code program with the Sahana Software Foundation. If you want to learn more about the Sahana Eden work on developing solutions which help people affected by disasters then this is your chance! During the internship you will be working on a variety of tasks such as supporting deployments, fixing bugs, writing tests, porting and refactoring code and your own small projects.

This internship is for people who are interested in getting more guidance and mentoring to help them. It is only available for existing contributors to Sahana Eden, so if you are not already contributing, please look at how to get started.

As the Sahana Software Foundation is based on the voluntary contributions of our community of members, these internships are unpaid. We do offer mentoring from experienced community members, flexible working schedules, future opportunities for paid work and the opportunity to contribute to a humanitarian cause which has impacts around the world. However do not want an individual’s financial situation to exclude them from an internship opportunity, so a limited scholarship fund may be made available on a case-by-case basis. The scholarship will vary based on the individual situation of each intern.

Apply Now for this internship. Applications close 25th September 2014.

Today Sahana was featured in a post on the Google Open Source Blog about our annual conference which they helped to sponsor.

One of the priorities for the Sahana Software Foundation is to find out where the community wants to take Sahana over the next years and support the development of a strategic plan to guide us together on this journey. A strategic plan will help to communicate priority goals for volunteers to choose to work on or, if we decide, to help us develop funding proposals to get more resources. We have already run strategic planning exercises with the Board and the community in Sri Lanka which have been used to prepare the outline for a Sahana Strategic Plan.

Please feel free to review and contribute your input to the Sahana Strategic Plan document.

With consultation of a number of community members I’ve put together a process and schedule for finalizing the Strategic Plan over the next weeks:

  • Finalize the Mission Statement & Vision (by 15 Aug)
  • Identify & Prioritize Goals for the next year (by 29 Aug)
  • Develop Strategic Plan and determine next steps (by 13 Sept)

Developing this plan will be an open process and everyone is welcome to participate in any of the follow ways:

In additional, I’ll be hosting a number of optional Virtual Meetings over the next weeks focused on the steps. Notes will be taken in all of these meetings and no decisions will be made during them – so don’t worry if you can’t make them:

  • Mission Statement & Vision – 11 Aug 2014 0900 UTC & 2100 UTC
  • Goals – 25 Aug 2014 0900 UTC & 2100 UTC
  • Strategic Plan – 8 Sept 2014 0900 UTC & 2100 UTC

Details to join these meetings can be found in the Sahana Strategic Plan document or on the Sahana Meeting Calendar

Please let me know if you have any questions otherwise I look forward to seeing our strategic plan emerge from everyone’s input!