one of the most important actions that must happen in a major disaster is communication. information must be both delivered to a wide area and be aggregated into meaningful data.
Ushahidi is an innovative and useful system. however, a system is only as resilient as the systems it relies upon. what happens when the phone lines and mobile phone towers are not working (as is the case with many disasters)? perhaps we should be considering lower tech solutions.
so far, HAM radio operators have been the first responders and deliverers of information for all major disasters. a HAM radio operator is an amateur radio operator that uses reserved international bands to communicate with other HAMs. they accept no compensation for any service. they try for voice connections, but sometimes there is only enough signal to send and receive Morse code (which most HAMs learn). there is also a do-it-yourself mentality in HAM radio; many HAMs customize their radio equipment extensively. they can often power it with little more than a small portable generator, and with that send signals around the world.
so why don't we hear about them more often (even though they don't seek fame anyways)? think about this: who are their competitors? some government agencies would rather people see the government as the first responder and helper. news organizations want to be known as the first provider of information. in all cases, it is embarrassing for the massive commercial systems and organizations to be outdone by a group of amateur philanthropists with radio equipment.
let's look at the next case: no power and no infrastructure after a major disaster. i have a few ideas here as well:
Morse Code makeshift lighthouses - people familiar with Morse code can send and read messages quickly. any high tower with excellent visibility can work. people can use a fire, flashlight and anything that lights up. laser pointers work exceptionally well for this; they can be seen for miles and during the day.
Laser Billboard - each town or village has a designated set of walls for laser broadcasts. these can take the form of Morse Code, words or even drawings. this can be done manually with any laser pointer, or even with some type of machine that can assist with writing or drawing messages.
Running Network - literally, a network of the people with the most adaptable and agile methods of transportation; generally on foot, a bicycle or a motorcycle. marathon runners, sprinters, parkour players and others carry messages and deliveries across unsafe and unstable terrain.
sometimes (often?), the answer is LESS technology, not more.
be safe, and seek the TRUTH.