This past spring Andrew ran into Todd Huffman at SXSW – where Todd was telling him about the beer-for-data program at the Taj in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. In short Dave Warner’s Synergy Strike Force had set up shop at the Taj where they installed a satellite up-link and wifi. The real bonus, though, was the Taj had a tiki bar from when it was part of the United Nations compound. Thus making it the only place in Eastern Afghanistan you can get a beer. Not surprisingly the combination of wifi and beer made the Taj a popular hang out for a variety of folks working in Afghanistan.

The result was lots of ad hoc data sharing between the disparate military, humanitarian, construction, and NGO communities visiting the Taj. This activity was semi-formalized when a hard drive was donated to reside on the bar to store shared data, and the beer for data program was born. Lots of the data ended up being geospatial in nature but mapping it was challenging. Most of the folks in the field did not know GIS, or even if they did were lacking access to desktop applications. Todd and company found GeoCommons and started using it to map data out. The downside was the satellite up-link powering the wifi was slow and connectivity could be sketchy.

Andrew told Todd we had appliances that had self hosted OpenStreetMap and Blue Marble tiles that could run completely locally. Traditionally we’ve done this with a rack mounted server, but that did not seem to make sense for Todd’s purposes. So, we grabbed one of the GeoIQ Mac-Mini’s we use for conferences, loaded it up with lots of Afghanistan data, and donated it to the program. (*GeoCommons is our free public site and GeoIQ is the tech we sell to pay the bills)

Shortly after this we attended CrisisCamp here in DC and met a bunch of folks interested in using tech to help with humanitarian relief projects. John Crowley invited several of us to participate in a STAR-TIDES sponsored exercise in Camp Roberts to simulate deploying technology for humanitarian relief in harsh climates (no power, no Internet etc.).

Unfortuantely we were not able to make it out to Camp Roberts, but Todd was, and he had the GeoIQ appliance with him. In addition to the Afghanistan data we sent along, we also added an Afghanistan geocoder for georeferencing data from the field. Many thanks to Kate Chapman for extending our open source geocoder to pull that critical bit together. Sean Wohltman has a great video with highlights from the exercise and Mikel Maron has a nice two part (1 and 2) blog series as well. Also see Development Seeds involvement and take here.

One of the great upsides to all this work is that Todd will have a lot more functionality to deploy in Afghanistan. For starters Google has graciously donated a mobile Google Fusion server and it is configured to serve tiles to the GeoIQ appliance and other apps as well. Also it looks like there is a lot of potential deploying Walking Papers and using them to dynamically update OSM tiles. An OSM tile generator is loaded on the appliance and now Walking Papers is as well. It will be fun to see what comes of the new combination. Both enhancements will really help create much better tiles for us and anyone else looking for detailed basemaps in Afghanistan.

Gearing up for the elections themselves we’ve already started ingesting data from Todd and folks on the ground in Afghanistan. Data will be geo-referenced and mapped with the Mac-Mini GeoIQ appliance for local use then federated up to public GeoCommons for wide spread dissimenation. We’ll be publishing the most pertinent maps to a dashboard throughout the elections. So far we’ve been georeferencing data from UNHCR district profiles, JICA security summaries, polling locations, tribal boundaries, etc.


Tribal/Ethnic data from the latest UNHCR district profiles


2004 Votes for Karzai and Recent Attacks

Interesting trends in tribal relations (Pashtun), support for Karzai (who is Pashtun), and recent attacks. Stay tuned as Todd and his team push up more data from the elections as they happen. It will be fascinating to see the variety of data coming in from new avenues like SMS geo-located polling and Walking Papers. We’ll be posting all of it on GeoCommons and funneling the most interesting maps to the dashboard. If you are in Jalalabad drop by the Taj and check out the OSM/Walking Papers/Google/GeoIQ stack in action. don’t forget to drop off some data and have a frosty brew while you are at it.


6 Responses to Camp Roberts Exercise and the Afghanistan Elections: Creating a Geo-Stack for Humanitarian Relief

  1. […] can read more about it on USAID’s Global Development Commons, or how we’re partnering with numerous other projects to build out solutions like this for deploying to the […]

  2. […] our last post we talked about the portable GeoIQ appliance we sent over to Afghanistan with Todd Huffman. Todd […]

  3. […] from the Geocommons Github Repository.  We’ve even deployed it with a modified database on a Mac Mini to Afganistan.  There files can be uploaded with Afghan village names and location is appended to them. Some of […]

  4. […] off a terabyte worth of data from Afghanistan, he talked a bit about what has made the “beer for data” program work at the Taj. Outside the universal thirst for beer data sharing success boiled […]

  5. Paige Price says:

    I always make sure that i get an exercise each day, exercise keeps me fit and healthy.,`:

  6. […] in was last August, but only remotely.  That was the start of our involvement running an offline geo-stack for humanitarian relief.  Since then Todd Huffman has taken the prototype to Afghanistan and the tools worked on at that […]