The Sahana Community is dedicated to supporting organizations in their mission to prepare and respond to disasters to save lives. Because we care, we particularly enjoy reading comments – of direct users, the broader humanitarian community or just curious people – about what we do and how we do it.
Recently, we read an article on The use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for disaster management on IRIN Global, a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The article notes that a number of NGOs and research groups have been trained to run Sahana in Taiwan, to respond to the frequent disasters of the island. This quote in particular stood out to us:
“While Sahana’s capabilities are “impressive” said Li [the deputy executive secretary of the quasi-governmental advisory body, National Science & Technology Centre for Disaster Reduction in Taipei], and include tracking crisis workers and volunteers, managing relief inventories and donations, mapping hotspots, registering disaster victims and reporting missing persons, managing triage cases and tracking aid projects, commercial software solutions have greater corporate support (not as readily available in the OS community), especially during disasters when errors and “unstable data” can be fatal, he said.”
Indeed, it is undoubtable that we and the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) community know about the necessity of support, especially during disasters, and the necessary stability of data, since the majority of us have personally witnessed the ins and outs of operational disaster response. In the process of creating our “impressive” and reliable features such as people tracking, inventories management, hotspot mapping, victims and missing persons registration, triage cases management and aid project tracking to support organizations, how could we forget about providing direct support?
Well, we didn’t. Support for open source software often differs from that of commercial software, but there are more avenues for support rather than fewer. To make it clear, there are three kinds of support available:
- First, our documentation will help users to solve the most common problems. Our documentation includes our FAQ, demo, slides and videos. The Sahana Eden book provides detailed technical guidance and an updated user guide based on EUROSHA project results will be available soon. These are all available free of charge.
- Second, users can get support from the community itself, which is one of the greatest strength of FOSS. You can contact Sahana’s developers and other users who may share your issues via our mailing list with your questions and easily find answers, because sharing is the core principle of the FOSS technology. Again, these resources are free.
- Finally, 24/7 Online, Telephone and in person support for FOSS is available for a fee.
Sahana’s mechanisms for support, both community driven and from vendors, match that of other well known HFOSS projects:
- For Open MRS, an FOSS project created to build the leading enterprise electronic medical record system platform, there are volunteers dedicated to provide technical assistance on database tools, data analysis, and reporting, assist with data-related request and advise for quality improvement. Developers employed the OpenMRS Foundation and supporting organizations also add features to the code base that come from customer requests for enhancements to the software.
- Mifos, a community of microfinance institutions, provides a list of local service providers who are available to give paid assistance and dedicated support. You can find a list of these providers in their support directory.
- For Sahana, you can get paid support both from the Sahana Software Foundation by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org as well as from companies such as AidIQ who help users with business analysis, process design, software development, training design, capacity building and human resources.
We know that organizations need support during disasters to mitigate the tragic impacts on the lives of affected communities, and we are committed to constantly improve our work. We will strive to always provide the best available disaster management technology to save lives. If your organization needs help with your FOSS solution from a more traditional approach, help is just a phone call away.
We hope this article clarifies the landscape a bit for users of humanitarian software packages – just because FOSS is available to you free of charge doesn’t mean there’s no commercially based support available. That being said, Sahana is a community driven project and we welcome help in creating the tools that are used by so many NGOs and humanitarian organizations in the business of saving lives. If you have further comments, ideas, and want to get involved, you are more than welcome to join us, and we hope that you will!