Project of the Month, June 2006

Sahana

Description of project

Sahana is a secure Web portal that provides applications for coordination and collaboration in the aftermath of disasters. Applications include finding missing people, connecting organizations, reporting on the distribution of aid and services, matching donations to requests, tracking temporary shelters, and, overall, providing transparency and visibility to groups working in a disaster. Key features include GIS, biometrics, PDA support, and availability in the form of a live CD.

Trove info

  • Operating System: OS-independant (Web-based)
  • Web Server: Web server with PHP
  • Programming language: PHP, JavaScript
  • Development Status: Production/Stable
  • Intended Audience: End users
  • License: Lesser GNU General Public License (LGPL)
  • Translations: English, Sinhala, Chinese
  • User Interface: Web browser

Why and how did you get started?

Following the tragic tsunami that hit Southeast Asia on Boxing Day 2004, the open source community of Sri Lanka got together to develop a disaster management system in three weeks, spearheaded by the Lanka Software Foundation, a FOSS R&D non-profit organization in Sri Lanka, with contributions from about 80 volunteer developers.

What is the software's intended audience?

Disaster administrators, government organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGO), disaster victims

How many people do you believe are using your software?

The software is actually used only during disasters or while preparing for one. An actual scenario might be just one Sahana server running, but managing thousands of people. Thus, the downloads and number of users doesn't reflect upon the actual use of the system.

What are a couple of notable examples of how people are using your software?

Sahana phase 1 was used successfully during the Asian tsunami in Sri Lanka. During the Pakistan earthquake, two of our developers traveled to Pakistan to help set up the software. In the Philippines mud slides, Sahana was used to manage and track organizations, people, and camps. Sri Lanka's largest NGO, Sarvodaya, is predeploying Sahana to manage its disaster response.

What gave you an indication that your project was becoming successful?

We received recognition from Richard Stallman, who created an award for Social Benefit inspired by Sahana. Now isn't that worth 10 awards? :) IBM's crisis team promotes Sahana for use in disasters. We've also received awards from Red Hat and Software 2006, but we prefer to measure ourselves by our usefulness in helping to alleviate suffering and save lives.

What has been your biggest surprise?

Chamindra: The tremendous response and support from the global community for this cause from FOSS developers to humanitarians.

Ravi: The interest from the humanitarian domain is overwhelming. I was surprised to learn how dire the need was for software like Sahana.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Mifan: Assigning priorities to what has to be done, the disaster-specific customizations or the new features. Getting it wrong would be, well, a disaster!

Ravi: We, being techies, found it difficult to grasp the domain aspect of the project. We always had to keep in mind that too much rigor and control should not hinder users in a disaster.

Why do you think your project has been so well received?

Mifan: The system is considered a humanitarian service, along with the other usual stuff, which is exactly what it's supposed to be.

Ravi: Free and open source is all about voluntary work, and in a disaster there are lot of IT experts trying to volunteer, so a disaster management system should be free and open source. Sahana is the one and only.

Chamindra: It is the merger of two domain that generate a lot of passionate volunteers, namely FOSS and humanitarian. I would like to request a new trove category for humanitarian projects.

Where do you see your project going?

Mifan: I see Sahana being used in every major disaster in the world (though that doesn't mean I want it to be used often!), along with non-disaster events such as vaccination programs. The flexibility and ease of development of the Sahana Framework might allow Sahana to evolve to cater to other domains as well.

Ravi: Right now our focus has been mainly on disaster management, but I can imagine Sahana evolving into a comprehensive system for an organization in disaster prevention/management/reconstruction, with modules such as bio-surveillance and housing registry coming up.

Chamindra: I would like focus on pre-deployment with localization to other countries, so that when a disaster strikes no time is wasted in having the software ready. If anyone can contribute to this from any country, please get in touch with us.

What's on your project wish list?

Mifan: More modules to make Sahana a one-stop disaster management destination, and to help manage victims in the most efficient way.

Chamindra: Pandemic (bird flu is an example) management modules. IT can play a key role in informing everyone of the spread of a pandemic without risking contamination.

What are you most proud of?

We have been of benefit to help alleviate human suffering and save lives.

If you could change something about the project, what would it be?

Chamindra: I wish we could get better Internet bandwidth. We often have to work on SourceForge with very slow Internet speed, and we frequently get disconnected.

How do you coordinate the project?

Sahana is primarily led bazaar-style through community consensus. However, when firm decisions need to be made on the project, the committee is called upon. The Sahana community, like a typical FOSS community, is a meritocracy based on contribution. It is not your credentials, your potential, or you references that we value the most, it is rather the effort you put in and the quality results that you produce for this project that make you peer-identified as a leader.

Sahana project development, releases, and packaging are spearheaded by the core team, who are also available on short notice to respond to disasters. The core team currently consists of six core developers coordinated by the Lanka Software Foundation. Complementing them is a much larger volunteer community of humanitarian consultants, emergency management experts, and FOSS developers from around the world numbering in the excess of 70, who collaborate mainly on the Humanitarian-ICT mailing list.

Do you work on the project full-time, or do you have another job?

Mifan: I work part-time on the project while attending university.

Chamindra: I work on a part-time fellowship from LSF. Actually all of the core team is on fellowships from LSF, which is currently sponsored by SIDA for phase II, after phase I was completed on a volunteer basis.

If you work on the project part-time, how much time would you say you spend, per week, on it?

Mifan: 2-3 days per week

Chamindra: 4 days a week

What is your development environment like?

Chamindra: IBM ThinkPad R50e, Debian Etch, PHP/Perl, Vim and bash scripts

Ravi: IBM ThinkPad R52, Debian Etch, PHPEclipse

Janaka: Mac OS X and FreeBSD, PHP/Perl, Vim

Pradeeper: IBM ThinkPad R50e, Debian Etch, PHP/Perl, Vim and bash scripts

Sudheera: IBM ThinkPad R50e, Gentoo 2.6.16 kernel, PHPEclipse

Mifan: Compaq Evo, Debian Etch, PHP/Perl, PHPEclipse and Vim

Milestones:

Sandhill Good Samaritans Award: 2006-04-05
2-0.2.0-beta-1 : 2006-03-29
2-0.2.0-beta : 2006-01-12
2-0.2.0-alpha : 2005-12-23
2-0.1.1-alpha-LiveCD : 2005-12-01
2-0.1.1-alpha : 2005-11-15
1-0.5-pakistan : 2005-11-15

How can others contribute?

We can use all the help we can get. Right now we would like more help in terms of pre-deployment to other nations, working with government and NGOs to adopt Sahana and prepare for potential disaster management situations. We also would appreciate any help on documentation, localization, and of course, donations and the occasional pizza or two :). You are most welcome to build or modify modules as you see fit to target a specific need. Sahana uses a pluggable architecture, so an end deployer can pick and choose only the modules that would fit the need.


More projects of the month


Project Name: Sahana

Project leaders:

Name: Chamindra de SilvaChamindra de Silva
Age: 31
Occupation or experience: See http://www.linux.lk/~chamindra
Education: Eng (Joint Hons) in Engineering and Computer Science
Location: Sri Lanka

Key developers:

Name: S.M Ravindra De SilvaS.M Ravindra De Silva
Age: 26
Occupation or experience: Senior Software Developer
Education:BSc(Eng)(Hons)
Location: Sri Lanka

Name: Janaka WickramasingheJanaka Wickramasinghe
Age: 24
Occupation or experience: Senior Software Engineer
Education:BSc(1st Class) - Biotechnology
Location: Sri Lanka

Name: Pradeeper DharmendraPradeeper Dharmendra
Age: 30
Occupation or experience: Senior Software Engineer
Location: Sri Lanka

Name: Mifan CareemMifan Careem
Age: 24
Occupation or experience: Student / Software Developer
Education: Reading for B.Sc in IT, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
Location: Sri Lanka

Name: Sudheera R. FernandoSudheera R. Fernando
Age: 24
Occupation or experience: Software Developer
Education:BSc in CS (Hons)
Location: Sri Lanka

Name: Mahesh K.K.SMahesh K.K.S
Age: 23
Occupation or experience: Student
Education: Reading for B.Sc in IT, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
Location: Sri Lanka

Name: Joseph PriyangaJoseph Priyanga
Age: 23
Occupation or experience: Student
Education: Reading for B.Sc in CS, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka
Location: Sri Lanka

Name: Sanjeewa JayasingheSanjeewa Jayasinghe
Age: 23
Occupation or experience: Student
Education: Reading for B.Sc in IT, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
Location: Sri Lanka

Quote about SourceForge.net?

SourceForge Rocks! Sourceforge.net has been part and parcel of our success.

Why did you place the project on SourceForge.net?

We needed a collaboration environment and a stable repository, so that we could concentrate on the development stuff rather than worrying about maintaining repositories, etc. We saw SourceForge everywhere. SourceForge has always been a reliable name in the open source world, and we salute you.

How has SourceForge.net helped you?

SourceForge has given us everything we expected and more. Stable repositories, bug/feature tracking, mailing lists, forums, statistics, Web space, trackers, project page, visibility, etc. SourceForge has become the number one brand in the open source world, and attracts millions of developers, which helps our visibility immensely.

The number one benefit of using SourceForge.net is:

It provides all the infrastructure we need for free. SourceForge is providing a great service to the open source world by providing such service, and we are in debt to them.