The Power Of Mobile Apps And Analytics In Times of Crisis


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During times of crisis, such as violent conflicts and natural disasters, cities, buildings, and homes aren’t the only things that get torn apart. It’s more common than not for family members to go missing in action during such devastation. In the wake of chaos, emergency evacuations and sudden deaths can lead to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of children. Fortunately, digital tools and mobile technology are being harnessed to bring families back together—rapidly.

Developed by UNICEF and the global software delivery and products company ThoughtWorks, the open source and volunteer-driven mobile phone application and data storage system RapidFTR was designed to help disaster relief workers reunite children with their parents. The idea originated in 2009 in the “Design for UNICEF” class taught in the Interactive Telecommunications Programme (ITP) at NYU. Through the skills and compassion of volunteer developers, who united during a series of code jams held around the world, RapidFTR came to fruition. The UNICEF team estimates that 10,000 hours have been contributed to RapidFTR by people across six different continents.

To date, RapidFTR has been successfully deployed in the Philippines, South Sudan and Uganda. More deployments are being planned this year, along with additional technical developments to make the tool more efficient for children’s protection workers.

In December of 2013, during the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, UNICEF met with the mayors of all municipalities to have the country’s Municipal Social Welfare and Development social workers,  Philippine National Police, and Children’s Protection officers receiving RapidFTR training. At that time, more than 1200 people in the country had been found dead and 300 were still missing. By day 10 of training, 10 children were found.

What’s the technology’s secret sauce?

The technology streamlines and speeds up the FTR of Family Tracing and Reunification process using small handheld mobile devices to collect, sort, and share information about unaccompanied and separated children. Eliminating the need for outdated paper-driven efforts, RapidFTR provides child protection specialists with a web application and field workers with the mobile application, quickly inputting essential data about a child including:

  • an identifying photograph
  • the child's age
  • family history
  • health status
  • location information

According to UNICEF, RapidFTR’s ability to photograph, record and share information about lost children has reduced the time it takes to reunite families from over six weeks to just hours.

  What if information about a child is too limited?

Reyne Quackenbush, who works in marketing for ThoughtWorks, says RapidFTR can add a child to the system with only scant bits of information.

“If a child cannot give their full name, or is too young or too scared to speak, a photo alone can begin the process,” shares Quackenbush. “Data is saved automatically and uploaded to a central database and regularly synced so that child protection specialists can take immediate actions. Registered aid workers are able to create and modify entries for children in their care, as well as search all existing records in order to help distressed parents find information about their missing children.”

RapidFTR’s capabilities and volunteer-based community are just two indicators that in today’s technology-driven world, every effort counts.

This post was originally published on Cisco's Technology New Site

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