Concern Worldwide, Ireland's leading humanitarian aid agency, took full advantage of technology to reach those in need and to communicate with audiences and supporters during their response to January's earthquake in Haiti.
Rapid onset emergencies - unexpected, large scale disasters - demand a planned response. Concern had ongoing programmes in Haiti since 1994, employing mostly local staff and this, together with the agency's work with local partner NGOs, meant local knowledge and local relationships would be crucial in any response. Emergency supplies needed to be prepositioned, staff trained and, in the case of an infrastructure collapse like that seen in Haiti, alternative lines of communication established.
In such sudden and extreme circumstances, a real sense of urgency needs to be conveyed to Concern's supporters and funders here in Ireland as well to an Irish and international media corps chasing every morsel of information to relay fresh insights into the full extent of the disaster to the public.
The agency's fundraising and communications teams needed swift access to both still and audio-visual images and written materials - vital to communicate the scale of the disaster and Concern's response - in order to be simultaneously and intensively proactive and reactive while the dust, quite literally, still hung in the air.
Of crucial importance in such circumstances is the speed of reaction in differentiating the organisation's fundraising appeal from those of other agencies. Time is money and money saves lives...
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, while international call signals were intermittent and unreliable, communications remained possible via text and occasionally via voice-over-IP networks. Concern also used pre-positioned satellite phones (and email via these satphones) to get vital information and messages out very early about conditions on the ground in Haiti, the immediate needs of the survivors and the wellbeing and whereabouts of Concern's team of 100 staff in the country. Connectivity was also quickly established via NetHope - a consortium of 29 humanitarian agencies and technology companies, including Microsoft, Cisco, Intel and Accenture - which established wireless communications within days.
Information from Haiti was received in a variety of formats (on one occasion, an advert was recorded in Dublin by someone using Skype in the capital Port Au Prince and emailed to radio stations in Ireland: the entire process taking just four hours!). Concern also used email and SMS (text messaging) to contact tens of thousands of supporters in the critical early hours of the appeal, asking people to visit its website (www.concern.net) to find out more about Concern's response and to make donations. Templates and pre-existing agreements with service providers ensured that radio, television and press advertising and printed appeals to supporters was prepared and dispatched rapidly.
As telecommunications improved, audio and visual material captured in Haiti was emailed to key staff back in Dublin and made available for download by journalists back in Ireland within minutes.
Staff in Haiti also communicated on an ongoing basis, and to impressive effect, via social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Within the first three days of the appeal, the organisation received over 7,600 donations, 80% via its website, raising almost €1m. SMS was also used to generate funds, with mobile phone users able to text "CONCERN" to 57500 to make a €5 donation.
Over the course of the appeal, Concern raised in excess of €8.4m for its emergency work in Haiti from the people of Ireland.
The number of visitors to the concern.net website increased dramatically, the huge jump in followers on Twitter and Facebook have been largely retained, and the scale of our media coverage broke all our previous records for such emergencies and has been independently estimated to have been worth €1.1m in advertising value equivalent: the 24/7 availability of communications staff and the quick accessibility and provision of unique material and eye-witness accounts from Concern staff were seen as a hugely important drivers in this regard.
- Pre-positioned stocks, trained staff and negotiated agreements with service providers allowed Concern react immediately to the crisis and communicate critical information to key stakeholders.
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