Information Week: Improving Disaster Relief Efforts With GIS

RippleNami’s GIS is helping NGOs and other aid organizations make the most of relief efforts by offering multiple layers of insight into an affected area. Here’s how one organization is making the most of it to support more than 85,000 people across Kenya and Ethiopia.

Delivering relief to victims of natural or manmade disasters is, at its core, a challenge of logistics.

During his years of work with the US government, Phil Gahn — RippleNami cofounder and chief business development officer — said he saw a problem in logistics. When he went to disaster relief sites, Gahn noted a disconnect whereby the same people, who often didn’t really need resources, received them over and over again. Materials often would be delivered to the wrong spot because data was old.



RippleNami cofounder Phil Gahn in Africa

(All images: RippleNami)

Gahn’s response was to develop RippleNami, a Geographical Information System (GIS) visualization platform that allows users to see information from numerous sources layered on maps provided by Google. As a result, teams ranging from NGOs to multinational corporations can see logistical details in ways that help them deliver products and services safely and efficiently.

In a telephone interview with InformationWeek, Jaye Connolly-LaBelle, RippleNami’s president and chief operating officer, spoke of the kind of customers RippleNami has attracted, and the sort of insight they are able to gain through stacking layers of visualized data in the platform.

As an example, Connolly-LaBelle cited Nuru International, a nonprofit working to end extreme poverty in remote rural areas. She said that Nuru plans on using RippleNami technology to support more than 85,000 people across Kenya and Ethiopia. Nuru will integrate its proprietary data related to agriculture, financial inclusion, healthcare, and education into the platform to better visualize location-based information.


RippleNami layers information from various sources on Google Maps data.

Connolly-Labelle said that many of RippleNami’s customers use a combination of their own data and information provided by RippleNami to create layers of information that will inform movements of people and materials. In Nuru’s case, for example, she said, “You can add the layers you want. Nuru wanted to track [Joseph] Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. We knew that Invisible Children tracked that, so we called them and licensed their data to pass to Nuru.”

That sort of information could be dangerous if the wrong people gained access to it, so security is important to RippleNami. The company uses layers of encryption and authentication to insure that only authorized users can gain access to data sets, and allows customers to specify which of their internal users can see different data layers.


The RippleNami user interface.

In addition to finding customers in developing nations, RippleNami is cultivating customers in Europe and North America. Asked to describe the kind of uses these customers might make of the service, she pointed to real estate firms that could create visualizations of many different quality-of-life factors for customers, showing everything from crime rates to energy and water use in an area where a customer is considering buying a house.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is executive editor for technical content at InformationWeek. In this role he oversees product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he acts as executive producer for InformationWeek Radio and Interop Radio where he works with … View Full Bio