03/22/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Earthquakes Don't Kill People

"Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings do" is the message from Architecture for Humanity. At 4:35 p.m. on January 12, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti, killing over 100,000 and leaving 2 to 3 million people in need of shelter. Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, needs a new public health, political, and physical infrastructure. Public support for Haiti has been incredible and technology has played a huge role.

It's All About Timing
Post quake, rescuers have 72 hours to recover survivors, and aid workers have a week to build camps that will shelter and prevent outbreaks. Organizations rebuilding infrastructure have years of work to be done. But orgs seeking public support only have two months to raise funds while the disaster is still top-of-mind for news agencies and social consciousness.

Social media generated responses within minutes and has helped intensify traditional news coverage and rally support. Tweets supporting Haiti began immediately and have remained a trending topic.


People have a natural fatigue point with disasters. Headlines fade and public sentiment moves on. Past trends of news coverage and web activity can help measure this sentiment. The chart below shows past disaster coverage for Hurricane Katrina, which spiked over a period of two months and the 2004 Tsunami, which spiked for three months. Based on these trends, Haiti coverage has between two to three months, peaking after about one month.


Acting Quickly
Most micro-donations are given in the first weeks after a major disaster. Orgs that are doing immediate and post-quake relief need to have clear asks and donation mechanisms in place now.

Mobile giving is the key to tapping into the surge of public sentiment. Each hour, $100,000 has been coming in via mobile gifts since Tuesday for orgs like the Red Cross, Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund and Clinton Global Initiative, raising over $9 million as of Saturday (CBS NEWS, PR WIRE).

There are four key reasons why mobile giving is working.
  1. Mobile efforts reduced the steps to take action.
  2. Orgs used clear messaging, with specific ask.
  3. Mobile giving capitalized on the issue while it was top-of-mind and made news actionable.
  4. It removed barriers of age or access to credit card, even teens could be a part of the solution.

Mobile is also being used to coordinate rescue and relief efforts through the work of Ushahidi. People on the ground have been reporting emergencies and relief locations via text, email and web. These issues are then mapped in real time and can be sorted by responders.

What's Next?

In 1989 the third game of the World Series was about to start when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked California. The quake caused over $6 billion in damages and killed 63 people. In 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake destroyed Haiti killing roughly 100,000 people (PR newswire). Geographically, both areas lie near major fault lines but only one had the proper building infrastructure in place.

As I write, the clock is ticking on the window that orgs have to raise public aid needed for rebuilding. Whether you have not yet made a donation or are one of the millions who have already donated to the emergency recovery, consider opening your wallet for organizations that will be rebuilding the infrastructure of Haiti over the coming years. The organization that turned to post-2004 tsunami was Architecture for Humanity. is also giving U.S. teens a way to help Haiti by donating their jeans to any Aéropostale Store. As part of Teens for Jeans, the fist 100,000 pairs of jeans raise will be donated and matched by Aero.