Tech companies responses to the Nepal Earthquake: who are we looking to for help?

27 April 2015

In the days since the tragic earthquake in Nepal, various forms of assistance have been offered from governments, charities, humanitarian response organisations, and by for-profit technology companies, whose reach and influence is bigger than ever before.

In many ways, it’s quite incredible that we have an expectation that international corporations and companies should offer some kind of response or assistance in the wake of a humanitarian emergency; but in fact, they’re very well placed to do so in lots of cases.

Here’s a list of responses from tech companies that I’ve come across so far; I’m sure I’ve missed some out, and I’ll keep updating it, so please let me know which ones I’ve missed out.

Note: as Maya pointed out: there’s lots of other digital responses going on right now, like the great work by the Humanitarian Open Street Map team. In this post though, I’m thinking about ‘tech company’ as being a for-profit company without an official social mandate.

  • Google activated their Person Finder tool for Nepal, allowing individuals to post and search for the status of relatives or friends.

  • Viber have switched off charges for ‘Viber Out’ calls from Nepal, meaning that users in Nepal can call anywhere for free.

  • Facebook launched their Safety Check tool, allowing others to mark their friends profiles as ‘safe’, and letting individual users notify their friends that they’re in the affected area.

  • Airbnb activated their Disaster Response tool in the area, allowing “individuals to list their space for free to support those who may have been impacted by the initial and subsequent earthquakes.” - though, given the scale of the disaster, it’s worth noting that this response is probably not that effective, and actually only one property seems to be listed. In the past though, for example during cases of extreme floods, this response from Airbnb has been much more effective.

  • Digital Globe, a North American commercial vendor of space imagery and geospatial content, and operator of civilian remote sensing spacecraft, has opened up access to satellite imagery of Nepal to help support disaster response efforts.

  • Twilio, a software company working on business communications, launched a ‘Call your Family’ initiative via Twilio.org, providing a free 10 minute call “a loved one affected by the Nepalese earthquake.” Note: this doesn’t seem to be restricted to calling users actually in Nepal, as you can select the country you’d like to call in the browser. (thanks to Sonja for bringing this one to my attention!)

  • T-Mobile has waived all costs for calls and texts to and from Nepal - and unlike the other offerings listed above, they also specify the time scale, saying that calls and texts will be free of cost from “Saturday, April 25 through Saturday, May 16”.

  • As well as the Google Person Finder, above, Google have also dropped the cost of calling with Google Voice to Nepal from a standard 19 USD cents to 1 USD cent per minute. They’ve said they’re keeping the minimal 0.01USD cost to prevent spammers from abusing the system and “possibly adding more load to the already stretched Nepalese telephone network.” (thanks to Kate for pointing this one out!)

  • Skype have made all Skype calls to landlines and mobiles in and out of Nepal free of charge - and, unlike the others above, this comes with a prominent disclaimer:

Excludes calls to special, premium service and non-geographical numbers. Skype’s Terms of Use apply. Internet and mobile fees may apply. Skype may discontinue or amend this offer at any time and may close any account for abuse. For individual use only.

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