Sahana Eden CERT Solution Takes 1st Place and RHOKs Austin

The Sahana community was well represented at another Random Hacks of Kindness (RHOK) event again this year, and had the honor of winning first place at the RHOK 2011 Austin (Texas, USA) event.  This year’s RHOK saw 30 cities world wide participating.  The Sahana Software Foundation has been a RHOK participant since it began in 2009, and each RHOK event has provided an opportunity to both showcase Sahana software’s capabilities, as well as extend its broad, opensource community base.

The Sahana Eden-based solution this year built on an idea that began at RHOK Chicago in 2010, where members of the Chicago CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) attended the Chicago event, with a problem statement on how to better manage and unite the base of CERT volunteers.  There, they met some members of the Sahana Eden community and discussed how the volunteer management module of Sahana Eden might be extended and customized to meet their requirements.  RHOK 2011 provided an opportunity to continue the effort and work started in 2010.

The CERT Team Problem Definition

CERT teams are trained volunteers who assist local emergency response agencies with emergency and disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, within their local communities.    CERT is a national US based program that is part of CitizenCorps and FEMA.  There are over 1800+ CERT teams in the US, and this program is being modeled in other countries.

Some of the challenges to CERT today are true in many volunteer based communities (and a good match for the generalized Sahana Eden volunteer solution), but there are unique concerns too (why customization is required).  This includes:

  • Volunteer management is difficult to coordinate and sustain, within a team over time.  Cross-team volunteer management integration is adhoc at best.  Tracking what volunteers do, including total hours spent, gaps in skills needed, are all areas needing improvement.
  • Event information is often not timely for response deployment, and reaching (the correct) volunteers in-real-time under time and location sensitive constraints is ineffective
  • Tracking up-to-date volunteer skills, certifications, their preferences, and keeping them informed of new opportunities and training (according to preferences) is difficult
  • CERT management is not integrated to larger disaster eco-system, from a technology perspective
  • Most often the volunteers are not directly engaged in the self-servicing of their CERT information or preferences, and often lack solutions where they are actively engaged or part of their extended community, so collaborative, easy to use solutions are needed.
  • Limited funding generally goes to supplies and training, no investments in technology is made, and there is often low technology maturity within teams.  Typically, teams leverage spreadsheets and email lists for communications, but these are low tech solutions that are represent incomplete and inconsistent processes across teams.

The RHOK Sahana/CERT Team Collaboration

Experience has shown that RHOK solutions with engaged ‘problem definition owners’ are the most successful in bridging their problem statements to working solutions, and this year was no exception.  Laura Lanford, a Chicago CERT volunteer and participant in 2010 solution, has been a Sahana Eden CERT solution champion ever since.  Laura has worked tirelessly over the past year refining her problem statement, developing use cases and stories, collaborating with other CERT teams in the US, and began working directly with the Sahana development community to further her vision for a collaborative, online volunteer management system customized to the requirements of CERT.

The RHOK Sahana/CERT Solution

At last year’s RHOK event, the focus was on the idea or elaborating and building requirements, and merging these non-tech and tech volunteer communities together to achieve a common vision.  A prototype was established which showcased some of the key functions, and the CERT folks were able to see a working prototype of their solution first hand.

At the December 2011 RHOK event  in Austin, the focus was on implementation: hardening the requirements and user stories, soliciting a broader CERT community on their input, designing a simple and streamlined user interface, and coding a solution that is ready to be piloted.  A detailed blueprint was developed that served as the basis for the work during the RHOK event.  A team of new-to-Sahana developers from Austin were supported remotely by Fran Boon and Marc Tamlyn in Oxford & Dominic König in Sweden.  Together, they built a customized instance of Sahana Eden tailored to the needs of CERTs.  

@franboon talking us through work on Sahana
Fran Boon talking through Sahana Eden at RHOK Oxford, UK

Key features of the system include:

  • Simplified interface to make more accessible to unskilled volunteers
  • Automated Skills assignment based on Certifications
  • Ability to search for volunteers matching a Skill Profile
  • Ability to report on Volunteer hours (a key requirement for funding)
  • Ability to send notifications by Email, SMS & Twitter

This solution is now being presented to the City of Chicago this week for a live implementation starting immediately and will also be presented to the Portuguese firefighters (Bombeiros) as they have very similar requirements & they are having their technical team trained to make the magic happen for them too.

The code for the Sahana Eden CERT solution is available on Launchpad.

Sahana Eden CERT Solution Briefing

Demo the Sahana Eden CERT Solution at!

Congratulations to everyone involved.

The Sahana/CERT RHOK Team:

  • CERT
    • Laura Lanford – Austin/RHOK, Chicago CERT and Problem Lead
    • Rich Frizelis – Chicago CERT
    • Linda Haynie – CERT Regional Coordinator (Austin)
    • Jeff Nathan – Chicago CERT
    • Deborah Shaddon – Chicago CERT, CrisisCommons
  • Developers
    • Fran Boon (Oxford, UK)
    • Kevin Doran (Austin)
    • Dominic König (Sweden)
    • Ryan Joy (Austin)
    • Benton Porter (Austin)
    • Michael Pratt (Austin)
    • Marc Tamlyn (Oxford, UK)

* * * * *

Much of this article was written by Deborah Shaddon, CrisisCommons Core Team Member, Chicago RHOK Lead, and member of the Chicago CERT chapter, with additional contributions coming from Fran Boon and Laura Lanford of the Chicago CERT chapter.

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