Meet Team Boston
The MIT Haiti Data Project Team is now officially known as Team Boston. We had a bit of trouble coming up with a name (“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” — Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2), debating between college names, colors, and Creole words — but then we decided to settle on a geographical name to indicate where our work is coming from as well as to recognize all the people from the Boston area who are volunteering their time to work on this project.
As mentioned in the Haiti Data Project post, the core of the team consists of 3 advisers and 8 students. We would like to introduce ourselves a bit more, and following are a few words from each of the students explaining our background and motivation for joining the project:
I am focusing my time at Fletcher on humanitarian studies with a special interest in disaster management. I have also begun constructing my thesis, which is looking at ways humanitarian agencies can decrease the 72 hour response time by using tech such as remote sensing, improved organizational structure, and perhaps (with your guidance) improvements in the supply chain structure.
My other activities aside from my classes include involvement in the Ushahidi team at Fletcher and a Disaster Assistance Team member for the Boston Red Cross. However, these activities are not that time consuming and are very flexible, which will allow for the MIT project to be my first priority.
Received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Sciences (biomedical), Harvard ’04 (thesis: “An interactive wireless teaching solution”), after which he worked for 5 years at a start-up developing IT systems for home monitoring of chronically ill patients. Over the past two years he have become involved in international development, particularly related to technology training and utilization at the local level. During these two years making two trips to Afghanistan to seed the deployment of a community wireless network and train locals to extend it. This network continues to grow.
Why this project?
With over 900 organizations involved in the aid response, efficient communication is an imperative. Keith aims to examine inter-agency communication in the crisis response, and learn how it could be improved. What is the role of IT in modern crisis response? Can we coordinate in the cloud? Keith hopes to include his work on this project as a component of his masters’ thesis.
I am a mechanical engineer by profession currently researching technology transitions in the aviation industry to reduce emissions. I use System Dynamics in my research and wanted to volunteer my experience with SD for this project. I hope to help the team in whatever little way possible in that regard. Emergency response is new territory for me.
I’m a first year Fletcher student focusing in humanitarian assistance and public & NGO management. I’m also currently interning for The Boston Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights researching the gender implications of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration on women in post-conflict settings. Before Fletcher I worked in international development and public health, with a focus on reproductive health and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar. I volunteered to be on this team because it matches my academic and professional interests in management of humanitarian aid delivery. I’m extremely interested in analyzing how current systems and structures affect aid distribution.
I am currently an MBA candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In my prior work, I was an algorithm developer for a defense contractor, focusing mainly on computer vision algorithms for unattended ground sensors. At MIT Sloan, I have performed project work in several of my classes, and plan to eventually transition into a role as a consultant.
I volunteered to join this team for multiple reasons. This project tackles a major problem and would give me an opportunity to:
* Leverage my background in data mining
* Participate on a project in the Caribbean, a region I led a series of MIT Sloan consulting projects to in March 2009.
I am a second year technology and policy masters student with a research focus on corporate social responsibility. Prior to coming to MIT, I worked at IBM in Research Triangle Park, NC on server virtualization and cloud computing. My background is in Computer Engineering, with a degree from the University of Miami. I’m originally from Miami, FL and would like to contribute my technical skills to data assessment.
I am a graduate student pursuing a dual degree in Technology and Policy (TPP) and Nuclear Engineering. I spent the first half of the life in France and the other half in Texas. Growing up, I spoke French (which I hope will help me understand Creole somewhat…) and Vietnamese, and then I learned English when I moved to the US. My love of learning languages led me to study Spanish as well. I joined this project for two main reasons:
1) The needs in Haiti are urgent. The results of this project can benefit thousands of people, and though the task may be daunting, I want to help in the best way I can — and as an engineer, that means data analysis.
2) From my project in G-Lab: Global Health Delivery, one main problem I tackled was the lack of assessment of the delivery of necessary – often life-saving – goods in humanitarian organizations. I hope to apply the knowledge and skills I learned from my experience in G-Lab towards this project.
I’m a dual degree MIT Sloan/Harvard Kennedy School MBA/MPA. I have a background in emergency preparedness and disaster management from working in Disaster Planning and Preparedness at the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay and at the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management. I volunteer for the team for two main reasons. First, I had been seeking a way to help with the relief effort in Haiti. Second, after learning about the project, I feel as though it will be very useful for my professional development to see how the skills I’m learning in school apply directly to the field.
Meeting Dr. Marc Zissman
We had our first meeting with our project leader and main contact in Haiti, Dr. Marc Zissman on March 3, 2010. From the discussion with him, our team was able to gain a better understanding of the goal and the scope of our project. As the Joint Task Force (JTF) rolls out the survey to determine the supply needs in Haiti, Dr. Zissman hopes that as our team “comes in without a horse in the race”, we will be able to assess the data about the supply and needs in Haiti with a fresh outlook and present the information in way that will be useful to key decision makers on the ground (i.e. U.S. generals).
Dr. Zissman raised the following key questions about the situation in Haiti:
- How does the supply compare to need?
- Where, when, and how should we best apply our limited resources?
- What are the humanitarian needs of the earthquake victims? How are they changing vs. time and location?
- Can a Common Operating Picture help achieve unity of effort in the absence of unity of command?
- Is a DoD-enabled supply necessary?
Over 70 people are involved in this project, and Dr. Zissman pointed out a few key players, notably Dr. Louise Ivers who is heading the Partners in Health (PIH) efforts in Haiti and was described as “she is like Mother Theresa” in regards to all the amazing and selfless work she has done. Read the article “‘I can’t sleep at night because of the things that I see” [http://harvardscience.harvard.edu/medicine-health/articles/louise-ivers-i-can-t-sleep-night-because-things-i-see-0] to learn more about Dr. Ivers. Dr. Zissman also highly praised the CDC Scientists (“these CDC people are the best”), who recently released a draft summary of the results from the Initial Rapid Assessment (IRA) in Haiti.
Dr. Zissman gave us quick tips on how to present to the U.S. military — particularly to generals who will be the main audience for the presentation of our data analysis. When giving presentations, we should start with a BLUF — Bottom Line Up Front — slide where we lay out what we need/want/would most like to convey. Generals only have time to look at one slide of information, so we have to make sure that whatever we put on the slide will be relevant and, most importantly, of interest. Each general has a type of slide he likes to look at, and we should learn from previous presentations and talk to the people who usually brief the generals as to how the information should be presented to make the most impact. Colonels have a bit more time and are able to look at longer documents (2-3 pages) or presentations with a few slides that include pictures and key bullet points. Bottom line: present the information as clearly and concisely as possible. After all, time is money.
Defining Our Tasks and Deliverables
Our team met for a 2-hr long session to determine exactly what we aim to achieve. Our 3 main goals are:
- Examine conclusions that can be drawn from the data and create ways to present the data to key decision makers
- Develop a system dynamics model to represent the major levels which describe the relief effort in Haiti
- Analyze whether the data being collected is appropriate and sufficient for determining optimal resource allocation
Over the course of the project, we will provide a template that can be used to inform resource allocation decisions. This will include the following:
- Dashboard – The dashboard will be used to present assessment findings to JTF-HAITI, USSOUTHCOM, JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff), and UN leadership.
- System Dynamics Model – The model will take the form of a conventional software package such as VENSIM
- White Papers – The White Papers will cover issues related to Food, WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene), Shelter and Health in Haiti
- Project Report – The report will detail our project findings
Each member on our team was assigned a specific task, and the focus at the moment is to finish updating the White Papers. Starting on Monday, data from the new survey is expected to “flow in en masse” (quote from Dr. Zissman), and our data team is ready to get to work!
It has been raining continuously in Boston over the past 2 days, and our thoughts are invariably turned to Haiti and the prospect of the rainy season. Haiti’s rainy season could start as early as this month and is expected to peak in May; hence providing adequate shelter for all the people who have lost their homes in the earthquake has been an urgent priority. Reports indicate that an estimated 1.3 million people have rendered homeless, and about half have received “emergency shelter materials” such as tarpaulins, tents, ropes, timber, and toolkits. The need for shelter cannot be stressed enough, as seen from the testimony of a woman in Haiti:
“Andreanes Theodore lost her husband in the earthquake and now lives in La Piste with her children aged 2, 6, 7 and 8. She said: “We couldn’t sleep at night when it rained. We would be awake the whole night, just waiting for the sun to come up. Now the Red Cross has given us sheeting we slept well last night, even though it rained.”
— British Red Cross, Race to give shelter to Haiti’s homeless reaches halfway, 12 March 2010 [http://www.redcross.org.uk/news.asp?id=103619]
Yet these emergency shelters will not be enough once the hurricane season arrives in the summer. As of now, it is unclear what exactly is being done to prepare for the hurricane season, especially since half of the people homeless in Haiti still do not have any sort of shelter. However, the shelter concerns have been in the forefront of everybody’s mind… As we in Boston listen to the rain pounding against our glass windows, we can only begin to fathom the disaster that will occur as hurricanes hit Haiti this summer… (If anyone wants to join in an anti-rain-dance to ward off the hurricanes, please leave a comment!)
Red Cross Progress Report
Yesterday (March 12, 2010), the American Red Cross released a two-month progress report on the aid efforts in Haiti. Some of the Red Cross actions include “spending or allocating $106.4 million […] and providing relief items for 400,000 people.” You can read the detailed report on the American Red Cross website at