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IBM's Open-Source Approach to Disaster Management
Photograph by Javier Pierini
Photograph by Javier Pierini
Director, Corporate Responsibility, IBM Latin America
São Paulo, Brazil

Patricia Menezes, 52, oversaw IBM's recent relief efforts in Chile, using open-source software to find missing persons and helping start communities on the long road to emotional recovery.

"Sahana is an open-source disaster-management tool, which was developed by the Lanka Software Foundation. We set it up, install it, donate the servers, support translations, and train volunteers. We can customize it and make it efficient and productive for particular communities. After the February quake in Chile, we used the database feature in multiple Red Cross camps and shelters to reunite families. You enter very specific characteristics of a missing person, from height to hair color to skin tone. The more specific, the more accurate the database is. We used Sahana after the 2007 earthquake in Peru. This time, we were able to get the program up and running very fast because it had already been translated into Spanish.

We've also partnered with medical experts to develop trauma guides for families, parents, and teachers. Kids return to school and they are scared, the teachers are scared. Especially in natural disasters, people feel helpless. They think, 'How can I handle this? How can I fight this? It's nature.' The guides can help them start the transition back to normalcy."

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.