New projects are being developed all the time as more volunteers join in with ideas and take on open challenges. But it is impossible to send every volunteer to the project. “Too many people asked for help right away, and we have different styles of work. Sometimes it was difficult to organize everyone with a specific role,” explains Kılıç.
For now, they are only focused on Turkey, but are trying to figure out how to contact Syrian NGOs and are looking for volunteers on board who can help localize their projects into Arabic.
The apps have received over 100,000 visits so far and the reviews are encouraging. “We are getting reports of people being found in the rubble and being rescued thanks to these apps,” says Kılıç. “This is the real effect we were hoping for.”
Open source technology has become a feature of disaster response over the past two decades. THIS volunteers in Sri Lanka used open source software to coordinate relief efforts following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. In 2010, online volunteers used crowd mapping software to real-time text needs on public maps during the earthquake in Haiti, using in part technology developed in Kenya to map post-election violence in 2007. used in the US in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In 2015, more than 3,000 digital volunteers used open source software to create maps of affected communities in the aftermath of the massive earthquake in Nepal. American Red Cross and the Government of Nepal made extensive use of this information in relief operations.
“Over the years, we have seen technologists willing to help out when a crisis hits,” says Amanda Levinson, co-founder List of needs a software development company for crisis response. But she adds that the need is partly driven by a lack of innovation in the humanitarian system. “The traditional humanitarian and disaster relief sectors are aging, fragmented and unable to keep up with the pace of crises,” she says. “We need new solutions.”
Turkey is home to a thriving tech scene with a large number of start-ups and entrepreneurs. The Covid-19 pandemic sparked a surge in investment in the country’s tech sectordomestically and internationally as home orders shifted investment focus to industries such as e-commerce, delivery services, digital transformation, and online and mobile gaming.
For some developers who have joined the industry’s relief effort, the motivation to help is deeply personal. Kılıç says that among the dead and injured are family members and community members of their colleagues. He admits that it was stressful for everyone, including himself. “I can’t think properly and my mind is constantly occupied with the thought of people stuck under concrete,” he says.
But Ozwataf says working on these projects has helped them feel useful. “For us developers who are far from disaster areas, we didn’t feel comfortable just passively listening to the news,” he says.
The current emergency is likely to continue for several weeks, and aftershocks could continue to affect Turkey and Syria in the coming years. Both countries face a huge recovery challenge. But Kılıç and Ozvataf say the community is growing as volunteers register by the hour.
“Technology is incredibly powerful,” Kilic says. “We can use millions of data points to locate those who are suffering, and we can do this in most cases before most NGOs can mobilize their next move. If we combine technology with rescue work, we can help people faster. With this technology, we can save more lives.”