Fletcher Features

Computing for Good: Patrick Meier (F12) and Crisis Mapping

On the third anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, Patrick Meier (PhD12) describes how new media has transformed the ability to map conflicts, respond to crisis and mount humanitarian response in the wake of disaster. 

"Information Communication Technology is changing the way we view the world—especially how we view those places in crisis. In my research, I’m exploring how humanitarian organizations, governments, activists and revolutionaries employ new media and how it has transformed our ability to map conflicts, respond to uprisings and provide humanitarian response. Sure, Facebook and interactive media are being touted as the next big thing, but what does that mean? How do you separate the hype from what’s really happening? How do you harness what is possible?

In 2010, while earning my PhD at The Fletcher School, I had the occasion to explore these possibilities firsthand when a devastating earthquake hit Haiti. In the immediate aftermath, I launched a crisis map to pinpoint the locations of those in need of services and available resources. With the help of more than 100 Fletcher students, Tufts undergrads and other volunteers, we created what FEMA called, 'the most comprehensive and up-to-date map available to the humanitarian community.' The project fielded thousands of Tweets and SMS messages and according to the U.S. Marine Corps helped save hundreds of lives.

The Haiti crisis map marked the beginning of what’s becoming an increasingly imperative and exciting aspect of international relations. Just look at the repressive regimes that have fallen recently—look at the impact that decentralized, distributed and mobile technologies have had in those revolutions. As one Egyptian activist asserted: 'We use Facebook to schedule our protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world.'

At the Qatar Foundation Computing Research Institute (QCRI) we are working on the next generation of humanitarian technology solutions. I like to think of it as 'Computing for Good'—backed by some serious resources."

- Patrick Meier, PhD12, is an internationally recognized leader on the application of new technologies for crisis early warning, humanitarian response, human rights and civil resistance. He is the Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation Computing Research Institute (QCRI) and was previously Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi. He holds a PhD from The Fletcher School, a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship from Stanford and an MA from Columbia University. He was born in Abidjan and raised in Nairobi.

Due to his involvement in crisis-mapping, Meier was named a 2012 National Geographic Emerging Explorer. The following promo highlights his efforts: