Governments Turn to Open Source Tool for Disaster Relief Management and Planning

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 12, 2009

Recently, we took at look at open source tools researchers use to stay a step ahead of earthquakes. While understanding the behavior of natural disasters is essential, it's also important to have plans in place to deal with the impact of hurricanes, floods, etc. when they occur. Sahana is an open source Web-based disaster relief management system that helps government and emergency workers deal with the aftermath of catastrophic events.

Developed and maintained by FOSS community volunteers, big-name companies like IBM and Google also support Sahana. A number of modules are available that address various aspects of emergency management, including a missing person registry to help reunite loved ones, a database to organize and coordinate volunteer activity, an inventory management application to track and deploy resources, and more. Sahana also has methods in place designed to protect victim data and reduce the potential for data abuse.

According to the project's documentation [PDF], there are many reasons why Sahana is developed under an open source license. The project team says that since there is "not much commercial interest in developing solutions in this domain... it seems almost unethical to restrict software." Additionally, the transparent nature of open source software may help reduce conflict between organizations during times of crisis, and make the sharing of data flow much more easily. Of course, offering Sahana free of charge makes it accessible to even the poorest of nations who would otherwise be unable to afford it.

"Going the open source way can address [these] concerns and using the open source development model, it is possible to develop this software at a much reduced cost compared to pure commercial development models. Thus if there was a small team which was driving such a project ensuring the quality of the product, then it is possible to get a lot of assistance from the global IT community to make those systems truly exceptional.

"This is what we see with the Sahana project, which has a core team of 11 people that has built a global community of 110+ participants and contributors from all over the world. And the FOSS community spirit, philosophy and mechanisms has been a key ingredient in the the successful growth of such a vibrant community for Sahana."

Sahana has already been put to the test following a tsunami in Sri Lanka, mudslides in the Philippines, and earthquakes in Pakistan and Indonesia. Many countries have also incorporated it into standing emergency response plans, and New York City has pre-deployed it as part of a local coastal storm plan.