Japan Earthquake: Tech Volunteers, Companies Rally Response

As the Humanitarian crisis in Japan continues to unfold in the wake of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck March 11, volunteer technologists from around the globe are coming together to offer help.

The earthquake and its aftershocks, as well as a subsequent tsunami, have devastated much of Japan and sparked crises at many of the nation’s nuclear power plants.

Crisis Commons reports that more than 100 technology volunteers have signed up to lend their expertise to disaster response and recovery efforts. The organization is also providing additional support in the mobile and GIS areas through collaboration with Appcelerator’s mobile development community and GISCorps. Crisis Commons says more volunteers are needed — especially those with technical skills as well as those who can provide search, translation, writing and research skills.

Since March 11, Crisis Commons volunteers from around the world have been collecting information and data sets in support of a UN OCHA information-gathering request. Hundreds of entries to the Crisis Commons Wiki have included data sets such as KML files and resources such as road and transportation data, the organization reports.

NetHope has been collaborating with volunteer technology groups, including Crisis Commons, working on information and data sharing activities, providing guidance on what kind of information will be useful for the response teams. Through member collaboration and by facilitating public-private partnerships with major technology companies, foundations and individuals, NetHope helps its members use their technology investments to serve people in the most remote areas of the world.

Several NetHope member organizations, which include the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Save the Children, World Vision, Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps. And Habitat for Humanity, are involved in the Japan earthquake response, according to the organization’s website.

A NetHope report issued March 12 notes that undersea telecommunication cables in and out of Japan seem to have mostly survived. Mainland Chinese carrier China Unicom said two or three cables between Japan and China have been damaged, but traffic was being routed around the breaks. The quake appears to have damaged the Asia Pacific Cable Network 2, which is owned by a consortium of 14 telecom operators, let by AT&T.

NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, and Softbank Corp — the three largest mobile-phone carriers in Japan — said their services were disrupted across many regions. According to a March 14 NetHope report, mobile services are still very difficult to utilize in the affected areas. Most relief teams are utilizing satellite phones as the only reliable source of communication. NetHope is working with the U.S. State Department, FCC and Global VSAT Forum on clarifying the process for import of any communication equipment. Ministry of Communications in Japan is advising relief teams to only utilize satellite equipment working on the Inmarsat or Iridium terminals.

Internet traffic to and from Japan seems not to have been affected, and many people have used the Internet, including Skype and social media, to communicate with each other and outside the country.

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