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Medical Response

Haiyan: Coordinating an International Medical Response

Thousands are feared dead in the aftermath of what could be the worst storm ever recorded, Typhoon Haiyan.

The scattered dispatches from the central Philippines region describe scenes of devastation, fields strewn with dead livestock, and air thick with the stench of rotting flesh. Piles of human corpses line roads.

At the height of the storm, scientists recorded sustained wind speeds up to 200 mph, enough to knock out many main line communications hubs.

Rescuers are struggling to reach some towns and villages, since parts of the worst-hit areas had tenuous infrastructures to begin with. As natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan ramp up in intensity and often hit densely populated areas, how do international relief organizations coordinate a response?

Getting Our Bearings

Before targeting relief and aid, we must first know the scope and breadth of the damage. With Google Maps, satellite imagery and crowd sourcing more accessible than ever, mapping storm damage in real-time has never been better.

Speaking of that giant San Francisco-based tech giant, Google has a philanthropic arm,, with a barrage of crisis response tools available to help coordinate first responders anywhere in the world.

Google Crisis Maps has a crowd sourced map of evacuation centers, crisis centers, hospitals and emergency supply drop zones throughout the Philippines.

Also tapping into the knowledge of the crowd, Personfinder helps concerned families and friends find information about missing loved ones. Anyone can search for the name of a missing person or add information about someone who is missing. Google has a dedicated page for “Yolanda,” as the storm is called in the Philippines.

Outside of Google, OpenStreetMap has a continuously updated Wiki of information on the storm, maps, and links to other data sources.

Moving People and Aid to the Area

Once we can see how severe the damage is and where, the next step will be getting lifesaving resources to the country.

With many roads, bridges and airports devastated and communications down, that can be tougher than it seems. The Tacloban City Airport control tower has been turned into a makeshift hospital, the BBC reports, and not just to treat storm-inflicted injuries.

Dialysis patients and other chronic care patients still need daily or weekly medicines and treatments, but the storm has prevented these types of treatments.

One survivor described the scene in Tacloban “like God has just scrubbed off the mountains.”

Direct Relief allows good Samaritans to donate money by credit card or PayPal to world disaster relief generally or Typhoon relief specifically.

Coordinating an international effort

“We need to focus on getting shelter kits, water and health services on the ground,” Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development in Great Britain told Dan Damon of the BBC World Service.

“We’re making sure supply lines are cleared and that any working airports are taking military aircraft full of supplies,” she said.

Economically poor places like the Philippines suffer more devastation that other places in the world, she said.

“Looking ahead, the key to success is making sure that the relief work we do now is disaster proof for the future,” she said.…