In times of crisis, families get separated and dispersed. Children get lost. Organizations devote lots of time and effort to bringing these families back together, through a process called Family Tracing and Reunification. It involves registering information about children, taking their photographs, and trying to share what they've collected with other NGOs, community members in order to reunite these families.
There is often no set system for reuniting these families, but generally it works like this: A child's information is collected on paper forms. A photo is taken. Maybe that information gets digitized and spread piecemeal to other NGOs, but often it just sits in a box in an office waiting to get typed up. There's no central repository and no easy way to retrieve, update or share information. Every day apart from family is crucial to the well being of a child, especially infants. Even small inefficiencies have lasting impact and short delays are too long.
RapidFTR is a mobile application that helps aid workers collect, sort and share information about children in emergency situations. RapidFTR is specifically designed to streamline and speed up Family Tracing and Reunification efforts both in the immediate aftermath of a crisis and during ongoing recovery efforts.
RapidFTR allows for quick input of essential data about a child on a mobile phone, including a photograph, the child's age, family, health status and location information. Data is saved automatically and uploaded to a central database whenever network access becomes available. Registered aid workers will be able to create and modify entries for children in their care as well as search existing records in order to help distressed parents find information about their missing children.
RapidFTR is the continuation of work begun last fall in Design For UNICEF. Over the course of a semester, a group of four students and myself researched the Family Tracing and Reunification process. We found that the system, while vitally important, is fatally flawed. Aid workers collect information on paper forms which sometimes remain buried away in boxes, or get digitized on local databases in a government office. The information that is collected is impossible to share.
Karla Calderon, Rune Madsen, Mustafa Bagladati, Rajan and myself created a design document and mockups for a mobile application that tackled this problem. The idea wasn't to revolutionize the process, just to streamline it and make it more efficient. We presented our ideas to UNICEF, received positive feedback, and collected our passing grades. The semester was over. And while we all spoke in passing about continuing the project, there were no concrete plans to do so. At least not until Chris Fabian, the director of the UNICEF Innovations Lab, and Clay Shirky's partner in Design for UNICEF, called with the news that an American had been stopped at the airport in Port Au Prince, trying to leave with 50 children. It was the first of many examples of child trafficking in the weeks after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. UNICEF wanted to put RapidFTR into production as quickly as possible.
The students involved pledged to continue work on RapidFTR and I took it on as my thesis. Since then the scope has increased along with the list of participants. In addition to the five students we've got outside developers from the UK and US, working on a volunteer basis. Some of these are listed on http://rapidftr.com, the website we've built for the project. About twelve people, including students, have logged significant time on the project, with the number of people who have offered to help in more limited ways is increasing every day.