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Aid Agencies Turn to Open-Source Software

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Wesleyan University and Trinity College students have developed Collabbit, software that acts as a virtual emergency response center. Collabbit serves as a central repository for information, using RSS or text messages to send project updates to response workers.

The students built a prototype system in three weeks as part of the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) project, which developed applications in response to the Asian tsunami. The American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities USA, which saw potential in the project, also contributed to the design. The relief agencies recently modeled their response after a hypothetical hurricane strike on a major city, and were pleased with the performance of Collabbit.

"Not only did it work, but it demonstrated to those who participated the value of the tool," says John Berglund, a coordinator with the New York City Salvation Army.

HFOSS project director Trishan de Lanerolle says developing the program provided the computer science students with a meaningful outlet for their work. "The work they are doing is something that has an impact," he says. "It's not just a classroom exercise where you write your program and then delete it the next day."

From New Scientist
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