Pioneering New Emergency Information Service Launched for Survivors of Natural Disasters

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 Medical PDA News
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LONDON, Dec. 15 Thomson Reuters Foundation today announces the launch of a pioneering, first-of-its-kind service - The Emergency Information Service (EIS). Developed to respond to major natural disasters around the world, the new EIS will deploy expert Action-Units of journalists to scenes of major catastrophe where they will seek out, collate and disseminate life-saving information to disaster-struck populations, filling a critical gap in the chain of crisis information.

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EIS Action-Units will be staffed by specialist humanitarian-trained Reuters journalists. Upon alert of a major natural disaster, the EIS Action-Units will travel to the affected area and use the most appropriate means of communication - particularly SMS text messages - to reach local populations, aid agencies and local-language media. Communities affected by disasters often find themselves cut off from information and aid. A key aim of the EIS is to ensure those affected are not seen merely as victims but as "first responders" who can help shape and manage the disaster recovery process through their own local knowledge and expertise.

Speaking at the launch, Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said: "In times of major natural catastrophes, information itself is aid, as crucial as shelter or blankets. Working with key partners such as the Red Cross, the EIS will have teams in the field within hours of a natural disaster striking. The EIS Action-Units will provide reliable, actionable information to help empower survivors to be architects of their own recovery."

Thomson Reuters Foundation has developed groundbreaking technology to allow the EIS team and other groups to assimilate and process multiple information streams in an emergency. The tools let the EIS Action-Units generate information services for dissemination in local languages via SMS, email and web page. When all communications are down, the EIS will turn to low-tech means such as leaflets, community noticeboards and even megaphones.

The launch of the EIS comes on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. To mark the occasion, the Red Cross and Thomson Reuters Foundation have produced "Surviving the Tsunami - Stories of Hope", a multimedia documentary capturing the stories of survivors, aid workers and a Reuters photographer, each giving their own highly personal account of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. The documentary explores how survivors have overcome tragedy to rebuild their lives. It features pictures and video taken by journalists from Reuters bureaus around the Indian Ocean, capturing the terrifying drama and traumatic aftermath of the tsunami's impact.

"Surviving the Tsunami - Stories of Hope" can be viewed at: The production is the third in a series of award-winning multimedia documentaries created by Reuters which have also covered the Iraq war and the financial crisis.

Commenting on the documentary, Paul Conneally, head of communications for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, "Five years ago the world watched the Indian Ocean Tsunami as it caused catastrophic and unprecedented damage across countries and communities, much of which is still being addressed today. It was a disaster that also witnessed global media attention, a worldwide humanitarian response and incredible levels of spontaneous generosity from ordinary people around the world. The Red Cross and Thomson Reuters wanted to produce a true testimony to mark this landmark event, and to provide a platform for ordinary people affected by the tsunami to tell their extraordinary stories."

Monique Villa added, "This is a hugely inspirational and moving multimedia documentary that reveals the human capacity to overcome tragedy. It also draws on the unique experiences of Reuters journalists in one of the most harrowing natural disasters of our time."

Notes to Editors:

About "Surviving the Tsunami - Stories of Hope":

The multi-media web documentary is a compilation of Reuters world-renowned photography, tsunami video footage, fresh interviews and interactive graphics.

The documentary is accessible in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Bahasa (Indonesian), Hindi, Tamil, Sinhala, Thai, Japanese and Mandarin.

The stories

Dina Astita, teacher and Red Cross volunteer

Thirty-five-year-old Dina is a tsunami survivor from Aceh. She works as an assistant English Teacher in the remote town of Calang, which was the worst hit town in Sumatra. Some 6,400 people or 90 percent of the town's inhabitants died when the tsunami swept through. Dina lost her three children in the wave.

After several years of helping others come to terms with their losses, she was finally able to think about her own future and now has a healthy one year-old son.

Arko Datta - Reuters photojournalist

The life of Reuters photojournalist Arko Datta changed on December 28th, 2004 when he photographed a lone South Indian woman crouching in the sand in mourning for a dead relative. It was this unforgettable image that won him the press photographer of the year award for 2004 and which also immortalised the pain of tsunami victims around the Indian Ocean. For this project Arko tells of his return to the beaches of Coimbatore in search of the woman he photographed five years ago. His story is about his search and the emotional impact of covering disasters.

Sara Hedrenius Andreasson - Red Cross trauma counsellor

Sara was not directly affected by the tsunami. One night 15 years ago, Sara was balanced on the edge of the sinking passenger ferry M/S Estonia. The ferry was rapidly capsizing and Sara realised there was only one option left, to jump ship and into the roaring, freezing Baltic Sea. Somehow she managed to cling on to a damaged life raft and was rescued. In total only 137, out of the 989 persons, onboard M/S Estonia survived the disaster.

Ten years later, 543 Swedish citizens perished in the tsunami, the vast majority in Thailand. Thousands survived with injuries or had to face a future life without their children, partners, relatives or friends. Sara quickly realised that many survivors would face the same needs as she did after the Estonia disaster. She went on to run trauma support groups for survivors,.

Kushil Gunasekera, local philanthropist

Entrepreneur, relief worker, ambassador for peace and reconciliation - Kushil Gunesekera is one of the charismatic heroes of the tsunami.

A committed Buddhist, Kushil ran "the Foundation of Goodness", a small charity committed to improving the prospects of children in rural villages surrounding his ancestral home in the village of Seenigama in southern Sri Lanka. He organised English classes and computer lessons for local children. When the tsunami struck Seenigama he was about to distribute school supplies to some children. His home was destroyed, and over 200 people in the village were killed. Kushil took a leave of absence from his job and single-handedly galvanized an eclectic community of villagers and volunteers from around the world to rebuild the shattered community. He mobilised funds from international donors and five years later, Seenigama is held up as a model of success.

About Thomson Reuters Foundation

Established in 1982, Thomson Reuters Foundation is a registered charity in Britain and the United States. The charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, it leverages the skills and expertise across the corporation to increase trust and access to the rule of law, to save lives through the provision of trusted information and to improve standards of journalism.

Following the acquisition of Reuters by Thomson Corp in 2008, the Foundation's resources and programmes were expanded and a new leadership team was appointed. The Thomson Reuters Foundation website,, is a portal which integrates the Foundation's three key areas of focus and brings together the Foundation's community of partners.

About The IFRC

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is the world's largest humanitarian network, with tens of millions of volunteers and staff in 186 countries worldwide. It provides help and support to people in crisis without discrimination as to their nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.

Contacts Thomson Reuters Victoria Brough Head of External Affairs, EMEA + 44 (0) 207 542 8763 Tom Gilbert Corporate Communications Manager +44 (0) 207 542 4214 Pictures contact: Jassim Ahmad Head of Visual Projects +44 20 7542 2822 International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Paul Conneally Head of Media and Public Communications +41(0)22.730.4669 / +41(0)79.3089809

SOURCE Thomson Reuters Foundation

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