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Quickly Noted: Haiti Earthquake Lessons Learned

June 29, 2010

The Haitian earthquake this past January was a shock to the system. The devastation was simply incomprehensible (it’s also important to note that the earthquake damage was compounded multiplied by the abject poverty in Haiti, see the relative lack of devastation in Chile in the earthquake that soon followed).

Unfortunately, those disasters that stretch the imagination and absolutely break all assumptions about how a response would be coordinated and executed are those disasters that we can learn best from. The Haitian earthquake is just that type of disaster. And the lessons learned are really something else. I wanted to point out two of the many articles I’ve read on the earthquake response that typify the things people have learned.

The first I learned from Andrew Welch’s great blog, and was written by Steve Pegram, CEM, Branch Chief – RIS, Incident Management Systems, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Mr. Pegram talked about the power of volunteers and social media in response to a disaster. The key passage follows:

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary analysts used this information to generate 300 action requests that resulted in more than 10,000 people being assisted. Think about that for a moment. A group of highly trained, skilled and dedicated volunteers used emergent intelligence from social media sources to parse information from well over 30,000 bits of data, to provide assistance to more than 10,000 people thousands of miles away.

The second article is much longer, and really very interesting. Published on, the Military Health System website, the article, Response to Haiti May Become Model for Disaster Relief, discussed the interaction between uniformed soldiers and NGO respondents. After each major disaster, there are always rumblings about how the military could assist with response, and one has to believe that one day, a broad-based military response will take place on American shores. The optimism in this article is hopefully what will guide this process.

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