Future Disaster Management with SAHANA

"Sahana Disaster Management System is a FOSS solution for managing relief operation information during disasters around the world. We were there with Sahana for Tsunami, we were there with Sahana for the Earth Quake in Pakistan and we were there again with Sahana for the Mud Slide in the Philipines, we are also available for everyone who wants to include Sahana for their Disaster Management Policies for the future anywhere around the world," shares Ravindra D'Silva from the University of Maratuao, Sri Lanka, the development home of Sahana.

Ramindra is a Software Engineering graduate working with the Lanka Software Foundation LSF, developers of Sahana at the University. "I joined FOSS through the Sahana project getting all the encouragement from Sahana developer Mifan Careem. I am employed full time by the LSF that is a nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting FOSS projects in Sri Lanka whereas Sahana Disaster Management System  is one of the globally recognized projects that LSF drives. Along with this, I have been serving at the University as a visiting lecturer with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and also work with FOSS customization including popular CMS and solutions like Drupal CMS, Dspace and Sugar CRM."

Implementing Sahana, "Sahana was deployed with Sarvodaya, the largest local NGO in Sri Lanka. Sahana has now also entered Phase-3 of its development and is ready for deployment and the objective of this phase is to stabilizing the system and bug fixing without adding any newer features. Our organization is also undertaking extensive research activity and has recently received funding from the NSF-National Science Foundation USA and are also looking forward to the approval of another proposal. Our knowledge contributions to the IEEE have also been accepted including the research paper titled 'Sahana Disaster Management System'. The paper has been accepted by ICIA-IEEE Conference. The Sahana development strategy also involves hiring 10 volunteers and this year we are inducting 17 internees".

"The local response to Sahana in Sri Lanka has been very low where as other countries are continuously looking at options where they can deploy Sahana for Pre-Disaster Management in their countries. For example, Philippines used the Sahana in response to the Mud Slide and now have it as an important component of their National Disaster Management Policy. The measures that these countries keep in mind during adopting Sahana include both pre-deployment before disasters and post-deployment, after the disaster. Now Red Cross and ICRC also use Sahana".

"Within Sri Lanka, we have never actually approached the government and moreover, we are lucky to have no disasters in the country after the Tsunami. During the Tsunami, Sahana was used for two months after the disaster and recorded information on over 10,000 families within the disaster affected regions. Eventually, after that we have been unable to create any contacts within the government to further promote its use with Disaster Management planning however, we are very optimistic that Sahana will continue to be further accepted by the International community."

Detailing on maintenance strategy, "What we do for Sahana is all totally free. We provide it free of charge but do not offer maintenance since the objective is to develop and deploy Sahana providing a stable Disaster Management System. When we transfer all the documentation and tools to the end user, it is expected for them to develop a team, we train them and they maintain the system. We have also added general features like GIS earlier to Sahana and are also focusing its use within general situations that makes it FOSS that is more usable in other areas".

FOSS in Sri Lanka, "The situation of FOSS in Sri Lanka is a bit grim due to the fact that there are very few Linux User Groups and organizations supporting FOSS. It has also been a bit difficult moving people to FOSS due to software piracy in the region. The LSF efforts however a moving the situation into a more positive direction. We have already conducted over 6 events both regional and international. In September 2007 this year we are organizing the Open Office Conference for the first time in the region and in the past have organized Asia's first ApacheCon. Still there are only three to four companies running a complete or partial FOSS or Linux infrastructure in the country but they are not contributing back to the FOSS community and neither do they service the local business and industry. However, we are working towards changing that situation by conducting two workshops per month at the University inviting stakeholders." 

The struggle, "Multinational closed software giants are struggling against the Linux User Group in Sri Lanka. The LUG has over 400 members on its mailing list and there is a significant increase daily in technical discussions on FOSS and Linux in particular. Almost every Sri Lankan University is either aware of FOSS or is practically teaching short programmes on Linux and System Administration but the daily or regular use of Linux itself may only be around 1000-1500 users in the country. For graduate level jobs, students need to learn Microsoft skills to be successful in the current market ecosystem. Two years ago, Microsoft gave free licenses to Universities and carried out many conferences in support of their strategy. Now Microsoft is even trying to restrict Dual Boot Access under their licensing within the Government"

Open Content is really missing in Sri Lanka and there is a great need to introduce such means and methodologies whereby the Sri Lankan academic and development sectors can promote Open Content.

author: Fouad Bajwa