The Sahana Software Foundation has actively taken part in the Google Code-In programme since its inception in 2010 and 2014′s programme was no exception as Sahana was once again among the 12 open source organizations selected to mentor students for Code-In.

From November 2014 to January 2015, students completed a whopping total of 173 tasks for Sahana, with 75 students completing at least one task. Sahana Eden gained a great amount of useful code from bugfixes to the completion of “@ToDo”s throughout the code, while the Sahana gained a sizable amount of useful PR material and documentation. The students who worked on each task mostly did a commendable job, with some students showing exceptional capabilities, showing that age is not a barrier to working with open source software.

We take special pride in hosting Google Code-In as the return we can provide for our students in terms of satisfaction is very high, as our young students know that their code might very well get used in the next deployment of Sahana Eden, which could directly lead to saving lives during a terrible disaster.

Each organization mentoring GCI 2014 select 2 Grand Prize Winners, 1 Backup Prize Winner and 2 Finalists at the end of the programme, and these students were awarded prizes by Google. The winners for the SSF’s GCI 2014 are:

  • Grand Prize Winners: Anurag Sharma, Samsruti Dash
  • Backup Prize Winner: Sai Vineet
  • Finalists: Vipul Sharma, David Greydanus

We extend our thanks to all our students, for their wonderful commitment and for everything they brought to this organization. We hope they will continue to work with us with same conviction and dedication they showed during GCI. A special thanks to all our mentors as well for all the hard work they put in for the duration of GCI 2014.

March Update

It’s been a busy start to the year with lots going on in the Sahana.

There’s been some great voluntary contributions over the past months. Tom Baker has been making some great progress extending continuing his work developing a Sahana Mobile App. Adhitya Kamakshidasan has been tackling some tricky problems around request management and vehicle routing. We’ve also had Allen Chen and Anand Chandrasekar  from North Carolina State University start to work on a project improving Sahana’s mapping. A team from Development Solutions Organization lead by Elizabeth Li is interested in helping to develop user stories, personas and scenarios and work with the Sahana Community to improve the design of our default deployment template. Finally thank you to Fran Boon from AidIQ for his tireless efforts continuing to maintain and develop Sahana,  the support they give to all contributors and their reviews of code contributions to keep our code in good space!

The Google Code In program finished in January, during which high school students completed 173 small tasks to support Sahana. Congratulations to the Sahana Grand Prize Winners: Anurag Sharma and Samsruti Dash – thank you for all the contributions you made to Sahana. Thank you also to Ramindu Deshapriya and Pat Tressel who lead Sahana’s support during the program, not to mention all the other mentors.

On the governance level, there’ve been some developments. Our bylaws have been changed to open up a seat on the board to be elected by the membership at each annual meeting. We’re going through a process to develop guidelines around board roles and responsibilities to support our board to operate at full capacity.

We’ve also established an Executive Advisory Committee to engage more people to help support the Sahana Software Foundation. The initial members of this committee are Paul Currion, David Dworin and Jacqueline Parisi and their role is to provide advice on strategic issues and networking opportunities.  Please get in touch with me if you’re interested in joining this committee or if there is anything you wanted their support with.

Nuwan Waidyanatha has developed a fantastic partnership between the Sahana Software Foundation, Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) to implement the CAP-on-a-Map, supporting the use of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) in the Maldives and the Philippines.  This project will be delivered by Spot-On Solutions and AidIQ.

My efforts have been focused on developing new partnerships and preparing proposals. I have had productive conversations with HDX, ACAPS, Philippines Disaster Recovery Foundation, San Francisco Neighborhood Empowerment Network, Wellington Regional Emergency Management OfficeJesuit Refugee Service, FEMA and the University of Sydney. I’ll share more as these conversations lead to collaboration with Sahana. Sahana is in the process of joining the Digital Humanitarian Network, which will hopefully create more opportunities for us. Unfortunately our application for the Rockefeller Global Resilience Partnership was not accepted, however we’re still waiting to hear back about the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund. We are also expecting work on the next phases of both the Los Angeles Community Resilience Mapping Tool and Puget Sound Maritime Common Operating Picture Project to be starting shortly.

I’ve put together a collection of brochure and presentation resources which you can check out here. Please feel free to download, share and use these!

It would be great to hear about what you’ve been up to with Sahana.


Michael Howden
CEO, Sahana Software Foundation

Sahana This Week

It’s a busy week for Sahana around the world!

Fran Boon, the Technical Lead for the Sahana software project, delivering a SahanaCamp training workshop for the Civil Society Disaster Platform, a coalition of disaster management organizations in Turkey. This workshop has been organized by MAG Foundation in close partnership with Sahana. It will include a introduction meeting for decision makers, a user workshop to explore the features needed for Sahana in Turkey and a technical training for local developers to build their capacity so that they can support Sahana. For more information see: (In Turkish).

I’m currently in Sydney, Australia and will be presenting Sahana to both the Interoperability for Extreme Events Research Group (IEERG) at the University of Sydney and the New South Wales Government (Emergency Information Coordination Unit). These meetings are a great chance to share the work we’ve been doing around the world, hear about what others are doing and create opportunities to collaborate with new partners.

Get in touch if you’re up to anything with Sahana that you’d to share with the rest of the community.


Michael Howden
CEO, Sahana Software Foundation

There’s a lot of similarities  between traditional disaster management organizations and volunteer technical communities such as Sahana’s – especially when you look at our operations from a information management perspective. We collaborate on projects with partner organization, often breaking the work down into tasks that are worked on by numerous people. For this reason we’ve been experimenting with using Sahana as the Sahana Sunflower: Community Portal to coordinate between all the contributors to our community, managing both the technical and and non-technical tasks across multiple projects and showcasing Sahana deployments around the world. Not only does this give us a valuable tool, but it’s an opportunity to Eat Our Own Dog Food – to be put in the user’s seat, to be confronted with things that can be improved and to make those improvements which can benefit users of all Sahana deployments.

Sunflower is an ongoing development. Hitesh Sharma has been working on this throughout his internship with Sahana and I hope that we will have someone working on it during the  2015 Google Summer of Code Program. Here are the full Blue Prints for what is planned. Get in touch if you’re keen to contribute.

Sahana isn’t the only volunteer technical community community needed a coordination platform . I’ve recently had conversations with Helen Campbell and Roxanne Moore from the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN). They’ve been doing great work leveraging digital networks for humanitarian response. To support their work they’ve developed a number of spreadsheet based tool, which track partner organizations, contacts, events, tasking, data sources and needs.

There’s lot of good things about spreadsheets: they’re easy to use, they’re flexible, they’re easy to change and can evolve very organically, they model very closely to a physical representation of data (a table on a piece of paper). But they have their limitations too: at a certain point they get too big to easily use (try printing a 30 column spreadsheet on one page!), they don’t show all the relationships between data, making reports/visualizations/maps can be tricky, they don’t support information management over workflows.

Helen and Roxanne both recognize the opportunity to implement a better solution and DHN are still going through their discovery process for this. I think it would be great for them to use Sahana to as their coordination platform. It would give DHN a better (open source) tool to manage their information and support workflows. It would help to have a bunch more tech-saavy people using the Sahana platform, suggesting improvements, piloting new features and maybe even becoming contributors. But most importantly it would mean that when a disaster management organization comes along needing a platform to manage their own operations, we have a mature, usable, open source solution that we’re all familiar with using to recommend: Sahana.

Image taken from the Timore Leste Disaster Risk MIS:

Image taken from the Timor Leste Disaster Risk MIS:

Under a well-developed disaster management system, the Disaster Management Organization of a Country should be aware of and should map every significant emergency incident or risk in the country. Disseminating such information among multiple agencies with disparate systems can be complicated. Multi-Agency Situational-Awareness (MASA) platforms facilitate the integration of silo-ed Organizations and dilutes inter-agency rivalry at every level of a National warning and incident management system. Such a platform that incorporates the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard is far more likely to interoperate with National and International warning systems. Moreover, the CAP content standard lays out emergency policies and procedures for streamlined information sharing among multiple agencies.

escap_ssf_ait_logosThe aforesaid concept: CAP-on-a-Map was one of the winning proposals that received funding from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); specifically from the UNESCAP  Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster, and Climate Preparedness. The Sahana Software Foundation (SSF) teamed with the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Geoinformatics Centre in pitching the proposal. The two organizations will complement each other with a combined set of expertise involving remote sensing, risk assessment, emergency communication, webGIS, and open source software. This is a stepping stone pilot that will build a program to offer countries in the Asia and the Pacific region (but not limited to) with software and procedures to manage their MASA practices.

Organizations participating in implementing CAP

Organizations participating in implementing CAP

At this pilot stage, this project will implement and evaluate a customized Sahana Alerting and Messaging Broker (abbreviated as SAMBRO) to serve the Maldives and the Philippines in managing their MASA practices. AIT and SSF are project co-leads responsible for achieving the proposed goals and objectives. The World Meteorological Organization Public Weather Services (WMO) will be a key adviser to the project, specifically with the implementation of CAP and incorporating the WMO advocated Register of Alerting Authorities. The Philippines Department of Science Technology and the Maldives National Disaster Management Centre are National counterparts leading the implementation, in collaboration with in-line agencies, in their respective countries. AidIQ, AIT Consulting (AITC), and Spot On Solutions (Spot-On) will provide technical assistance.


Activities and Milestones

Over the next 18 months (1st Jan 2015 to 30th Jun 2016) the project will collaborate with the various partners achieving the milestones. They mainly comprise understanding the current state of the warning mechanisms, then training a set of trainers to build National capacity to operationalize the Sahana software-enhanced MASA, run mock-drills to evaluate the interventsion, and finally, share the knowledge with disaster management researchers and practitioners.


Sahana @

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.