Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Using technology to provide assistance to earthquake hit Christchurch

The week since the earthquake has gone by quickly. The central city is still cordoned off and many homes in the Eastern suburbs still without water or electricity. The Christchurch city council earthquake information page makes for sobering reading as the city council works to bring services back to the city. Continuing aftershocks make the recovery effort a challenge and frazzled residents have been leaving the city in droves.

I have kept myself busy helping out with food distribution organised by Comfort for Christchurch (CforC), an offshoot of the student volunteer army (SVA). My son has been helping out with the volunteer army's main effort, the removal of liquefaction from gardens and homes (yes there is liquefaction INSIDE some homes). Both the SVA and the CforC are run by students through facebook pages linked with chat and twitter feeds. SVA runs out of the University of Canterbury Student Association and CforC out of a student flat near the university.

At CforC, they have managed to obtain sponsorship from Telecom and run their database using Google docs, track their activities with Google maps and communicate using facebook and gmail. Two desktops and half a dozen laptops plus a multitude of makeshift 'whiteboards' coordinate the effort. The main objective is to be a collection point for food, water and toiletries and then to distribute these to the people who are in need. Volunteer drivers and mountain bikers from the university's mountain biking club do the distribution into the Eastern suburbs, aged care homes and 4 daily runs to police HQ. We have been deluged with food including 2 truckloads of home baking from students in Wellington and people who bake for another SVA offshoot, the Christchurch baking army (CBA). However, short of containers to put all the yummy food into :( so if you are able to help, please check the SVA facebook page for details.

All the activities above are fine examples of the use of cloud computing, a topic of Derek Wenmouth's blog yesterday. He provided his own example of COREs use of cloud computing, allowing CORE to continue work despite their physical premises being located within the city cordon. There is still no electricity in the central city due to the ongoing rescue / recovery. Today's blog on use of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) also pertinent as guides to providing blended learning. Some programmes at CPIT may need to supplement classes, once the polytechnic opens, to help students catch up with missed lessons.

I am really enjoying my time with the CforC. The students are enthusiastic and very competent. It is heartening to experience the community spirit NZ is well-known for. Everyone pitches in and things get done quickly and efficiently. The majority of the volunteers associated with SVA, CforC and CAB are young and it is heartening to see how they have engaged wholeheartedly with the work. All bodes well for the future :)


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