A crowdsourcing map, Twitter hashtags and a mobile app are being used to reunite families, donate blood and help Kenyans make sense of the recent tragedy.
The deadly four-day siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya led to at least 67 deaths, more than 40 missing persons and close to 1,000 people rescued.
On the final day of the attack led by the Somali-militant group Al-Shabab, Kenyan forces collapsed three floors of the shopping center — a move that is believed to have brought an end to the siege, but killed an unknown number of hostages still inside.
According to BBC, local authorities have launched a rescue operation that involves experts from the US, UK, Israel, Germany, Canada and Interpol teaming up with their Kenyan colleagues to mine the rubble for forensic samples for analysis.
In the meanwhile, a number of organizations and individuals have joined together to offer various ways to help victims in the upcoming days.
Blood drives have popped up throughout the country to alleviate the huge blood shortage brought on by the 175 or so injured people. Kenya Red Cross has helped to mobilize the thousands of locals who came out to donate blood and help those searching for loved ones.
Yet, workers soon realized that the organization’s infrastructure was not built to withstand such an overwhelming turnout. Also, hospitals discovered that some types of blood were running low, while other places were overstocked with another type.
To create a more efficient process for locating blood donation locations and other systematic tasks, the global non-profit software company Ushahidi has developed a crowdsourcing map, BloodDonationKenya.Crowdmap.com. In this innovative feature, those persons interested can track down the blood drive centers that best fit their offerings.
Another emergency tool from the Ushahidi team, the Ping application, helps small groups, like families and companies, immediately contact their members to ensure their safety. Keeping in mind the diversity of mobile phones available worldwide today, this app was developed with the simplest phones in mind.
When a disaster occurs, the user can send out a message for everyone on their contact list to check-in. In addition to including a mandatory “are you okay?” at the end of the user’s text, the app also sends the message out as a text and an email, three times and once every five minutes.
If the message’s recipient responds, he or she is considered okay. If there is no response, then three messages are sent to the recipient’s emergency contact.
From the start of the siege through now, Twitter has served as a double-edged sword of sorts — giving the militants a space to celebrate the attack, while also allowing authorities and the world to stay up-to-date on the latest developments.
Kenya’s Twitter community has remained plugged into the conversation, thanks to hashtags like #KOT and #WeAreOne.
As questions emerge regarding the identity and status of the attackers and the proficiency of the Kenyan police and military units that oversaw the hostage situation, this online conversation will likely show the latest developments as Kenya continues to recover.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Khalil Senosi, File)