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Last Updated: Friday, 15 June 2007, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Web tool to help survivors cope
Survivors pick through donated clothes, AFP/Getty
iCare aims to directly match donors and survivors
Web technology may soon help survivors cope in the wake of a natural disaster.

US researchers are developing a peer-to-peer system that aims to make it much easier to ensure survivors get what they need to re-build their lives.

The iCare system directly matches donated goods or services to the specific items that survivors have asked for.

It also improves the use of spare space on delivery trucks to get aid to disaster-stricken areas more quickly.

Direct delivery

PhD students Anand Kulkarni and Ephrat Bitton came up with the idea for iCare following the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans.

The aftermath of that disaster was made worse thanks to logistical problems, red tape and failures of communication that delayed aid reaching survivors.

Despite this, say the pair, ad hoc aid plans that used sites such as Craigslist or blogs and discussion forums did help to provide relief for many.

The pair are working on the peer-to-peer system while studying at the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

In the iCare system survivors report what they need via web terminals in aid centres or using text messages sent via mobile phones. Their requests are then routed to the companies, organisations or individuals that can provide exactly what they need.

The pair hope the system will prove popular, as many individuals prefer to donate goods rather than just hand over cash to aid agencies.

As well as matching donors and victims, the iCare system also aims to streamline the delivery of aid to disaster zones.

Algorithms written by the pair find free space on trucks owned by delivery firms that have signed up for iCare and which which will be heading into disaster zones.

The iCare system also plots the best route for the truck so all the aid it is carrying gets to those who have requested it as fast as possible.

"There's a massive desire on the part of the public to help after disasters, and they just need a good way to transform that desire into something tangible for the victims." said Mr Kulkarni.

The pair said they were keen not to stop existing aid agencies providing help and said iCare could prove a boon to these organisations.

The system has reporting tools built in which can produce maps of where victims are located as well as the goods or services they have requested.

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