Fieldwork in Chile begins for public access ICT in disaster research

Maria Garrido and Beth Patin visited Chile in February 2011 for the first week of a month of fieldwork for a TASCHA research project investigating the role of telecentres and public libraries in disaster management.

During the visit, Maria and Beth worked with representatives from ATACH, TASCHA’s Chilean research partner, conducting three focus groups with public access venue users, interviewing public access venue staff, and meeting with local government officials, including the Minister of Telecommunications. The research activities took place in Santiago, the capital, and in Curico, Talca, and El Empedrado located in Region VII of the country — one of the regions most heavily affected by the disaster.

Many interesting observations were made in this first week of fieldwork, including identifying the some of the roles telecentres and public libraries played during the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile:

  1. Helping users and staff locate friends and family
  2. Helping users fulfill government requirements to get assistance to rebuild their homes
  3. Introducing users to the other services the venues provided, such as ICT training

To meet local needs, telecentres and public libraries improvised quickly, adapting to the current situation and conditions. One example of this is what a telecentre organization, CDI Chile, did to reach users and other telecentres that did not have internet access. They filled a van with computers and, using a satellite for access, drove south to other telecentres, letting people use the computers along the way.

A mobile telecentre. Photo courtesy of CDI Chile.

Biblioredes, the public library network, also responded to meet local needs. Like CDI Chile, they adapted their facilities by opening temporary locations.

A temporary library in Molina. Photo courtesy of Biblioredes.

Another example was helping with communications. After the disaster hit, there were gaps in media coverage of the disaster and what was currently happening on the ground. To fill these gaps and show what was happening in the communities surrounding the libraries, Biblioredes created videos through their YouTube channel, which they distributed and promoted on social networking sites. These same videos were also used to raise awareness of the importance of libraries in the reconstruction efforts.

It is important to note is that these roles and services telecentres and public libraries provided originated from the initiative of staff — they responded quickly to meet the needs of their communities following the disaster. Community members did not immediately think of these public access venues as sources of help, so staff promoted their services at places community members frequent — putting up posters at churches, local businesses, and markets.

Learn more about TASCHA’s Crisis Informatics research area and the public access technology and the 2010 Chilean earthquake project. For more information about this project please contact Maria Garrido.