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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

New app for children to find families in disaster and war zones

September 6th, 2013 by Susan Smith

With the number of disasters that occur in the world today – both natural and unnatural – children get separated from their families with increasing frequency. Jorge Just, a student in a class called “Design for Unicef,” at New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts, wanted to make a an app for people who were under emotional stress. His idea went beyond the usual app for those with great Wi-Fi connections and cell service available in the inner cities.

Children in third-world countries certainly don’t have these advantages, and what Just found in his five visits to Uganda was that lost children were relegated to old systems where paper-based forms were manually entered into large databases, and the children themselves may not be that distant geographically from their parents.

Mr. Just found that older systems for lost children depended on lots of legwork, picture walls and suitcases full of paper-based forms that were manually entered into large databases.

“A child might be on one side of a refugee camp, and their parents might be on the other side, but for all intents and purposes, they might as well be on different continents,” he said. “Even small distances in those situations can feel insurmountable.”

So he started working on a way to help. After three years of development, his Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification app, or RapidFTR, is now connecting lost children with their families much more quickly than ever before.

UNICEF reports that RapidFTR’s ability to photograph, record and share information about lost children has reduced the time it takes to reunite families from over six weeks to just hours. Just’s app is very simple, designed to be able to be easily adopted by aid organizations.

Designed to run on hardware such as Blackberry devices, RapidFTR can add a child to the system with only scant bits of information. If a child cannot give their full name, or is too young or too scared speak, a photo alone can begin the process. The app works both with and without a wireless connection, by syncing to a server later, if needed, according to an article in The New York Times

Just said that he knows of at least 70 children who have been reunited with their families so far. RapidFTR is being deployed in South Sudan and has already been used at the Nyakabade Transit Center and the Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement camp in Uganda, where children from Democratic Republic of Congo often arrive after fleeing attacks by rebel groups.

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Categories: GPS, LBS, location based services

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