New $1.2 million grant allows expansion of “open source” crisis work


CORVALLIS, Ore. – CrisisCommons, a global network of volunteers who are helping to aid people and regions in crisis, has received a two-year, $1.2 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to expand its efforts, including its partnership with the Open Source Lab at Oregon State University.

This group of grass roots volunteers, who use computer and Internet technology to help tackle crisis events, arose after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, and since then has also responded to the massive earthquake in Chile, Gulf Coast oil spill, and floods in Tennessee and Pakistan.

It helps volunteers to work across borders, collaborate on projects, translate languages, build “open source” computer technology tools, collect data and provide support for crisis response efforts. After the major earthquakes of 2010, for instance, it organized 63 events in eight countries with more than 2,300 people participating, to support such projects as “Person Finder” and “Tradui,” a Creole translation application.

And a Portland, Ore., “Crisis Camp” was organized to help with Haiti earthquake relief, tapping into the efforts of a community that has already been very supportive of these humanitarian efforts.

“We are still new to this, and have so much to learn from the Open Source Lab and their wider partner community,” said Deborah Shaddon, a working group leader with the CrisisCommons organization. “We look forward to joining with the Open Source Lab. One more step together toward lessening human suffering in the world, and achieving opportunity for good through adversity.”

The new funding is being administered through the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, and this project will focus on research issues that need to be addressed to improve public and private collaboration in crisis response and global development, officials say.

The collaboration with OSU’s Open Source Lab will include:

  • Hosting and support of core CrisisCommon services, including websites, wikis, and training resources;
  • Establishing a model for crisis and disaster response using open source technology;
  • Addressing issues of “surge capacity” found in specific crisis and disaster response situations;
  • Documenting and disseminating “lessons learned” from technology volunteers.

“Part of this support will allow the improvement and expansion of the infrastructure of CrisisCommons at the Open Source Lab,” said Deborah Bryant, public sector communities manager for the Open Source Lab. “This is one more way for the lab and the open source community in Oregon to show their leadership and support of these important humanitarian software projects.”