Changing Expectations: Using Online Tools to Get the Lowdown

Our expectations have changed a lot as we continue to see, every day, hundreds of tweets about current conditions.

Our guy on the ground in Haiti is Randy Roberson, with Telehelp.org, and he spent the last week there, stationed at the Hotel Montana, scouting out with the 82nd Airborne the camps that have not been reached, and he’s sharing that information with us, in hopes to come back with us.

We’re also hearing from people who are serving in some of the tent cities, and specifically ones that are in Jimani, where we’re staying in the Dominican Republic, so that we can maximize our time on the ground in clinics. It’s been amazingly helpful to see that people have been able to communicate their needs via Twitter and by cell phone.

In the first days of the disaster, I remember seeing that some needs were met faster by people tweeting their need to American volunteers who were on Twitter monitoring those needs, letting the resources in other parts of Haiti know that there is a need, than the ability of those individuals stating the need by cell phone, because the cell phone network was so congested and spotty in coverage. There was better coverage for SMS and data.

I think cell phone communication is improving, but people are still getting the word out there. For example, last night I saw that there’s a desperate need rabies treatment for someone in the camp across from the presidential palace. There’s a large tent city there, and a portable hospital there that has a patient with rabies; And I bet there probably isn’t any rabies treatment in the whole country, except perhaps on the USS Comfort, which is docked near the airport; that’s an example of people seeing immediate needs and then trying to find the resources to cover them.

Another example I’ve seen of how people get the word out for their need is with each of the organizations that have their own internal communications. The Seventh Day Adventists have a large, 70-bed hospital that has enlarged to many hundreds of beds by setting up in tents outside the hospital, and they have a base camp that uses an online software product that’s allowed them to communicate their needs on the ground. For example, yesterday, it was made known that many women with uncontrolled hypertension are having seizures. They had a discussion on what medication they could use, including magnesium, and the whole hospital only had 2 grams of magnesium, which could have only treated one woman with seizures for 1 hour at the dosing required. They have doctors flying in every couple of days, and so they told the next group of docs to bring in a whole bunch of magnesium for these women. A lot of these women are delivering with preeclampsia.

The online tools seem to be helping a lot in expressing need and finding sources to help solve those needs. For us, we’re using Facebook a lot to get the word out for our needs, and the local parents’ organization has a very active, e-mail list, and they were able to get the word out for a bake sale, where they were able to raise almost $8,000 for us, and they’re also supporting us with a lot of donations. They got the word out to the local schools, and every school in the area is sponsoring our trip and collecting change. And we’re providing them back pictures of what we’re doing with that. For example, we have a presentation at a local school tomorrow when I’m going to show them the food that is going to be delivered that day from the money that was pledged earlier. That food, water, and supplies will support a whole orphanage. So, it’s very tangible for these donors to feel like they’re seeing the immediate impact of their donations and efforts.

Our expectations have changed a lot as we continue to see, every day, hundreds of tweets about current conditions. We are being invited by the Four Square Gospel Church, but as we are monitoring the situation, we are finding that there are more resources down in Port-Au-Prince, where there are many temporary hospitals set up to serve those tent cities. We’re intending to go and find some of the tent cities that haven’t been served by physicians yet, and we’re doing that by connecting with folks who have just gone.