State Dept Sets Up Email Inquiry Address for Haiti Crisis

For people trying to contact U.S. citizen friends and relatives in Haiti 

The US Embassy in Haitihas updated its contact information for inquiries on welfare and whereabouts of American citizens in Haiti. Reprinted in full below: 
During the Crisis in Haiti, calls regarding the welfare of U.S. citizens can be made to the Embassy’s Consular Task Force in Port-au-Prince at 509-2229-8942, 509-2229-8089, 509-2229-8322 or 509-2229-8672. (Prior announcement also urged Americans to contact the Embassy via email at ACSPaP@state.gov to request assistance).

 

The Department of State has received a high volume of calls concerning the welfare of U.S. citizens in Haiti.   To handle these requests most efficiently, the Department has established an e-mail address for people who are trying to contact their U.S. citizen friends and relatives in Haiti. 
Please send your inquiries to:  Haiti-Earthquake@State.Gov and include the following information:

  • The full name, date of birth and passport information (if known) of the persons in Haiti you are trying to contact.
  • Their contact information in Haiti;  telephone numbers, email address, hotel name or address (if known)
  • Your name and contact information, and your relationship to the person in Haiti (parent, spouse, friend etc.)
  • Any special or emergency circumstances.
Our task force will work with our Embassy staff in Haiti to locate and, if needed, provide assistance.  We will respond to each message as soon as possible.  If you hear from the person you are concerned about, please be sure to send us an email providing the new information about their location or condition

Below is the contact info for the Ops Center from a prior announcement
:
The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747 (due to heavy volume, some callers may receive a recording). Outside of the U.S. and Canada, call 202-501-4444. 
 
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FBI Issues Haiti Earthquake Relief Fraud Alert

The FBI today reminds Internet users who receive appeals to donate money in the aftermath of Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before responding to those requests. Past tragedies and natural disasters have prompted individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization and/or a good cause.

Therefore, before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, to include the following:

  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
  • Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
  • Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
Anyone who has received an e-mail referencing the above information or anyone who may have been a victim of this or a similar incident should notify the IC3 via www.ic3.gov.

Insider Quote: It’s a challenging career

“It’s a challenging career […]. It’s competitive to get in and competitive to stay in. The challenges we face in foreign policy are complex. Nothing comes easy. It’s hard work, and the hours are long, wherever you serve. Here in Iraq we work seven days a week, on average 17 hours a day. It’s not an easy career, but diplomats of all countries share pride in serving their countries.”


W. Patrick Murphy
Foreign Service Officer and PRT Leader in Ninewa Province, Iraq
Quoted in Cultural curiosity | BUHS grad part of rebuilding effort in Iraq |
Brattleboro Reformer

   

Ushahidi Haiti: Impressive, Inspiring Effort


Image from Ushahidi Blog
I first posted about Ushahidi in July last year when I was captivated by the TED presentation of Erik Hersman. Ushahidi was used in the Kenyan post-election crisis of 2007-2008 where it became a place online to report incidents of violence via the web and cell phone text messages.
In August, Ushahidi stood up “Alive in Afghanistan” and crowdsourced the elections in the country. 
 Less than 24 hours after the Haiti earthquake struck, Ushahidi Haiti, a quad-lingual site is up and running (English, Spanish, French, Kreyol). An impressive and inspiring effort.  When it was 3 a.m. in Boston and the work was still unfinished, the Nigerian team took over.  The initiative is a joint effort between Ushahidi, UN OCHA/Colombia and the International Network of Crisis Mappers (CM*Net).
According to Ushahidi:  “OCHA/Colombia recently deployed Ushahidi for an earthquake response excercise so we’re very grateful for their invaluable contribution to this Haiti deployment. We’re completing the customization of the platform as fast as we can. Please follow @Ushahidi on Twitter for updates and help spread the word, especially to colleagues inside Haiti. Please do contact us if you want to help. Our thoughts are with the people of Haiti and with our humanitarian colleagues on the ground.”
There are currently 141 reports in Ushahidi Haiti with a good number looking for Haitian American family members. Some reports require medical assistance like a distressed 80 year old American with broken leg; addresses and phone numbers are provided but very few have been responded to so far. The website has verified several reports on hospitals that are operational, as well as the international airport.
Ushahidi is an open source project that allows users to share information during crises. Ushahidi Haiti tracks the current crisis with a map that can be filtered using the reported locations of emergencies, threats, vital lines/logistics (road blocks, water shortage, power outage), response (medical, search and rescue, shelter, others). It also features a filter for mapping survivors and deaths.  It aggregates tweets, and streams from You Tube and Flick. Ushahidi has previously done 4 major alpha deployments, including the War on Gaza, Vote Report India (to monitor the recent local elections) & Pak Voices (to map incidents of violence in Pakistan).  Ushahidi was also used to track crime in the Atlanta metro area in Atlanta Crime Maps.     
The Huffington Post reports NPR and the New York Times are both looking for ways to integrate the Ushahidi platform to cover the unfolding disaster after the Haitian earthquake.  Check out haiti.ushahidi.com. The Ushahidi team also blogged about their work in Our Efforts in Response to Haiti’s Earthquake. 

I hope the brainiacs at the Consular Affairs Bureau would take a look at this platform for the next crisis which could happen anywhere in over 200 posts worldwide. Note that OCHA/Colombia recently deployed Ushahidi for an earthquake response exercise. This could be an extremely useful addition to post-specific crisis management or table top exercise. Ushahidi could also be used to track incidents in high crime posts like South Africa, El Salvador, or Papua New Guinea.  
Please pass this on to the Secretary’s Sounding Board.

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US Embassy Haiti and the Hard Work Ahead

 Map from Relief Web
From the Special Briefing yesterday on the situation in Haiti with Cheryl Mills, State Dept Counselor, USAID Administrator Raj Shah and U.S. SOUTHCOM Commander General Douglas Fraser (Washington, DC | January 13, 2010) with updates on the US Embassy and staff in Haiti. 
Cheryl Mills, State Dept Counselor:
[T]here are approximately 45,000 U.S. citizens who are in Haiti. The Embassy Port-au-Prince has activated its Early Warning System to connect with those citizens and establish, one, how they are doing and, two, what support they might need. We have received a number of reports of injured U.S. citizens, so we are working through those to be able to make sure that we are getting everybody the assistance that they need.

There have been a number of calls that have come into our Consular Affairs here at the Department seeking information about loved ones who are in Haiti. For those people who are seeking information, the President gave out this number. I just want to give it one more time, and that is 1-888-407-4747. And that’s a number that you can call into if you are seeking information or seeking to make a request with respect to someone who is – that you are trying to connect with that’s in Haiti.
In terms of Embassy personnel on the ground there, we have about 172 personnel who are there under chief-of-mission authority. As of 8:00 a.m., we had accounted for just about all of them. There were eight personnel who were wounded, four who had been seriously wounded. We have already had U.S. Coast Guard heels on the ground to be able to medevac them to get appropriate care. And so we are beginning to see that happen as well.
We have ordered the departure of approximately 80 Embassy spouses, children, and non-essential personnel. Those will begin happening later today so that we can ensure that the infrastructure and resources that are there can be properly concentrated on those who are in need. The Coast Guard will have planes actually arriving, I believe, this afternoon. And I’m sure General Fraser will be able to speak to that to help and assist in that evacuation process.
The Embassy structure has remained intact and so it has become a point of support. And it has been providing medical support and other support for Haitians and Americans and others who have been able to reach the Embassy.
The Skeptical Bureaucrat on the embassy structure that survived the earthquake: “Those Fortress Embassies occasionally have their uses. The U.S. Mission in Haiti is fortunate to have moved into a new office complex last year, a nice seismically-resistant one with lots of infrastructure support and located close to the airport.
I don’t know if those 172 employees under chief of mission authority mentioned above include local employees. The embassy in Haiti issued 35,000 visas in FY2008 but had a refusal rate of 61.4% in FY 2009. I imagine that the consular workload there is not insignificant; which would also mean we have a large number of first tour officers serving at post. Our American staff will be dealing with the evacuation of their own families as well as the demands at work.  They will most certainly be working in shifts as they account for American citizens in country, help those injured, assist our citizens with contacting families back home, process them for evacuation, and identify and confirm American casualties.  I can’t even begin to imagine the magnitude of the work especially on dealing with casualties – visiting hospitals and mortuaries, if those survived the calamity … bodies on the streets …. all can quickly be overwhelming.     
One other thing to remember with this kind of devastation — the local employees who make up a significant number of mission employees will also be dealing with possible casualties in their very own families. The earthquake occurred approximately at 5:30 p.m. So the local staff would have been home or on their way home; which make casualties among the local employees also a real possibility.
The Embassy’s Consular Task Force was set up with four local phone lines for an approximate American population numbering 45,000.  It’s hard to tell how much of the phones and the cell towers are actually working.  And if only a fraction of those individuals have registered at the embassy or have kept their contact information current, the work of tracing them would be doubly hard. And with limited local staff support, that work would be even much harder.  I hope TDY consular personnel from the neighboring missions are on their way to Port-au-Prince. I hope, too that PA personnel get some additional help; Anderson Cooper is in Haiti and a whole lot of folks from the big news media are on their way there.         

Meanwhile, in the State Department’s later briefing yesterday — the Spokesman said that a small number of American citizens were at the airport and that there were two C-130s on the ground to evacuate Americans.  The Coast Guard has also evacuated a small number of injured Americans. 
He also reported that as of 4 o’clock yesterday, more than 82,800 donors texted their help and $828,000 had been raised so far. By simply texting “Haiti” to “90999” a donation of $10 would automatically be added to one’s cell phone bill. PJ Crowley said that this was an arrangement worked out by the State Department with mGive Foundation Mobile Accord, the Wireless Association and the American Red Cross.
Finally, I should mention that our US Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten is a career diplomat.  He has served as a Deputy Executive Secretary to Secretary Clinton and earlier to Secretary Rice. His Washington experience also includes two assignments in the State Department Operations Center. 

The Executive Secretariat (S/ES), comprised of the Executive Secretary and four Deputy Executive Secretaries, is responsible for coordination of the work of the Department.  The Operations Center (S/ES-O) is the Secretary’s and the Department’s communications and crisis management center. Working 24 hours a day, the Operations Center monitors world events, prepares briefings for the Secretary and other Department principals, and facilitates communication between the Department and the rest of the world. The Operations Center also coordinates the Department’s response to crises and supports task forces, monitoring groups, and other crisis-related activities.  It should be comforting to know that our top guy on the ground in Haiti is not a stranger to crises.

Contact Information
US Embassy Haiti
Americans are urged to contact the Embassy via email at ACSPaP@state.gov to request assistance. Americans in Haiti can call the Embassy’s Consular Task Force at 509-2229-8942, 509-2229-8089, 509-2229-8322, or 509-2229-8672.
State Department Ops Center | Haiti Task Force
The State Department has also created a task force to monitor the emergency. People in the U.S. or Canada with information or inquiries about U.S. citizens in Haiti may reach the Haiti Task Force at 888-407-4747. Outside of the U.S. and Canada, call 202-501-4444.
Locate Relatives Through ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross has opened an online page called FamilyLinks.icrc.org which aims to accelerate the process of restoring contact between separated family members.  You can check The List to see if your relative’s name is on the list, Register yourself if you want to inform your relative of your whereabouts, Register your relative if the relative you’re looking for is not on the list.

The ICRC cautions that it has no means of verifying the information sent through this open network. “The information given on this website is not confidential and can be consulted by everyone. It is the responsibility of the persons publishing information on this website to ensure that no harm can result from this publication. The ICRC cannot be held responsible for any possible negative consequence that might arise from the publication in this website.”

Updated @9:58 pm
Info on Ambassador Merten added.