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citizen reportingWhat do you do when disaster strikes? How do you know what’s going on? How will you know which areas are dangerous and which are safe? These are the questions Ushahidi tries to answer.

When events happen rapidly and on a massive scale, traditional media outlets have some difficulty verifying and transmitting relevant information to people. Emergency situations require current information “” and lots of it. Unverified citizen reports of danger can save lives. This is why Ushahidi tries to make it easier for citizens to give these reports and offers free software to facilitate the information.

What Is Ushahidi?

Ushahidi is free open-source software for co-ordinating citizen reports on a national crisis. When there is an emergency, anyone can quickly create an Ushahidi map to co-ordinate the information for the area. It will allow people to see unverified reports on a map and a timeline, so they can get information quickly.

citizen reporting

Ushahidi means “Testimony” in Swahili and was originally created to track post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. Here’s a quick video on Ushahidi and its uses.


Anyone can download, adjust and use the Ushahidi code to make a visualisation of useful crowd-sourced information. But if you prefer to have something hosted for you, Ushahidi is available to use free in the cloud via CrowdMap. This means you can set up a free disaster-tracking map in minutes.

How Can You Make Use Of Ushahidi?

Disaster efforts which have been tracked through Ushahidi already include Snowmageddon, crime in Atlanta, London tube strikes, floods in Australia and more. For future emergencies, you can expect there will be an Ushahidi map created to co-ordinate relief efforts.

disaster information

These maps can be used to collect any crowd-sourced information, though. Ushahidi might also see a future outside of disaster situations, such as collecting information on public art, festival happenings, garage sales, environmental monitoring or other interesting mappable data.

disaster information

Once you set up a deployment in either CrowdMap or a self-hosted Ushahidi instance, you can collect information via SMS, email, website, online news, Twitter hashtags and smartphone applications. Your map is publicly viewable, so everyone can see the data collected on the map and timeline.

disaster information

As the person who set up the map, you’re also able to view website statistics collected with Google Analytics.

disaster report

Ushahidi Applications On SmartPhones

The Ushahidi application is available free for all popular smartphone types. Here’s links to the iPhone/iPad and the Android application.

The phone can record accurate location data for your reports. If you’re unable to connect to the Internet it is able to take your report and upload it later when you have Internet access.

The iOS application has far more options than the Android application. With the Android application, you need to know the URL of the map you want to follow and you can only get reports for one map at a time. Whereas the iOS application allows multiple maps to be monitored and it lets you download a map for offline use. It even has a discrete option which pops up a browser if you shake the phone (useful for sensitive information, like election reporting).

disaster report

Submitting & Tracking Crisis Information

If there is an emergency, you can get hold of the Ushahidi application for your smartphone, then easily upload photos or text updates of events you’ve witnessed. You can also track any relevant map online or offline to keep abreast of the local situation.

disaster report

If you don’t have a smartphone, you can send SMS updates, email, tweet using the map’s hashtag or upload information via the relevant website.

Thoughts On Ushahidi/CrowdMaps

Due to the simplicity of using CrowdMaps there will be lots of new users making maps for all sorts of things. This will be both good and bad, since it increases the wealth of public information, but also makes finding that information more difficult.

It would be best if Ushahidi could also use your location to try to find maps with local information for you. If there’s too many there, Ushahidi will need to add relevance filters so you can find the important ones.

In an emergency situation, I doubt everyone will follow protocol and check for maps already made “” it’s more likely you’ll wind up with more than one map tracking the same things. Hopefully Ushahidi will add a “hey, it looks like there might already be a map for this” checking feature to help people avoid double-ups.

citizen reporting

Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with Ushahidi and CrowdMaps. It makes crowd-sourcing geographical data quick, easy and free. There’s power in that sort of community facilitation.

More Mapping

If you’re into maps, you’ll love these articles:

With all these great map ideas to choose from, what will you use Ushahidi for?

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