NYT The Missing in Haiti

After a 7.0 magnitude quake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 12th, 2010, a colleague mentioned that we were receiving emails from readers asking for help finding loved ones who were in Haiti.

We realized that we could help by giving our readers a way to register their missing loved ones, using an application I built for managing user-generated content. I published a simple submission form with space for various details on the person, contact info for the submitter, and a photo.

The response was almost instant. The first submission came within minutes of the form going live. “The missing people in haiti" went from being vague and impersonal to real: each submission told a story of someone our readers cared about. We published an interactive, “The Missing In Haiti,” a photographic collage of unaccounted for victims of the earthquake, driven by our audience.

At this point The US State Department had chosen Google’s People Finder application as the de facto resource for tracking this data. Volunteers around the world were scouring the web for any reports of the missing, then manually reconciling it into a format Google’s People Finder app supported. I collaborated with NPR, Ushahidi, ICRC and Google to make our data available in this People Finder Interchange Format (PFIF)* immediately via an API endpoint. Then I wrote a tool to send updates on a regular basis.

The combination of an Interactive News UGC platform and our collaborative efforts meant our interactive stayed current, even noting when a person was located and happily no longer one of the missing in Haiti.

Other media organizations followed suit, including CNN and The Miami Herald.

PFIF is a structured form of XML developed in response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.