As is well known in the field of disaster management, preparedness and contingency planning is core to the success of people-centered early warning networks. See my previous post on “Insights from Disaster Early Warning.” While Ushahidi users can now subscribe to alerts by SMS, there are currently no response protocols linked to these individual alerts. The latter is not necessarily Ushahidi’s responsibility, but the team can play an important role by integrating a form for response protocols within the Ushahidi platform.
Ushahidi is closing the feedback loop between crowdsourcing and crowdfeeding by introducing an alert subscription feature. However, the notion of crowdsourcing response requires further develop- ment so that operational protocols can be implemented.
In other words, although users can subscribe to alerts, this does not mean they will be prepared to react or know what the best response is when they receive said alerts.
I witnessed this first-hand when setting up a community-based conflict early warning and response network in Timor-Leste. To be sure, the notion of “preparing for conflict” is not one that always comes naturally.
Imagine if the disaster early warning community only focused on forecasting and payed no attention to preparedness and contingency planning (PCP). Millions more would die every year without training, shelters and regular drills. PCP can also be applied to conflict early warning and rapid response.
An organization implementing Ushahidi would simply need to do the following: for every indicator category the organization identifies, a response protocol for that alert would be added to an Ushahidi “Reponse Protocol Form.”
So for Indicator “A”, a series of response protocols for that indicator would be listed in the Response Form. These protocols could be customized based on where and when the incident took place. The protocols could include information on nearby shelters, hospitals, police stations, food stocks, etc.
This is primarily logistical but PCP can also be applied to identify and formulate tactics for conflict management.
In Timor-Leste, I ran a short and informal PCP excercise by asking members of a local community to think through what they would do if a land dispute occured in their village. For example, who would they call or notify when they hear about the incident. How would they try and intervene to prevent the situation from getting worse? These questions generated a rich set of action-oriented protocols that drew on their own traditional conflict resolution mechanisms.
Ushahidi can plan an integral role in encouraging organizations and communities to think preventively by adding a simple technical functionality to the platform. “Response Protocol Forms” could be used to follow up SMS alerts with SMS Response Protocols. Clearly, the organization deploying Ushahidi would be responsible for ensuring the protocols are correct and up-to-date.