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The SAHANA Disaster Management System

Contributed by IBM Global Services
IBM Business Resilience & Continuity Services



The year was 1999 and members of our IBM Crisis Response Team (CRT) had arrived in Istanbul, Turkey to support the government in responding to a massive earthquake that had struck near the town of Izmir.  The Minister of Health had requested assistance in setting up, organizing, and managing eight (8) warehouse and distribution centers for the receipt, tracking, and shipping of medical supplies and drugs.  Donations were coming in from 67 countries in 23 languages.  The challenges were significant.  We needed to gain a rapid understanding of the needs of the field hospitals and find a way to logically track, organize, and manage the operation.  One of our requirements was to implement a computerized logistics management system that could catalog over 10K drugs in 27 major categories (set by the World Health Organization).  In just a few days, and an amazing programming effort led by Mark Prutsalis (a member of the CRT), we had a fully functional logistics management system running in Turkish and English.  The project was a major success and many thousands of disaster victims were helped.  

As time went on, we faced similar support system challenges when responding to disasters in Venezuela, Peru, India, and over 70 crisis events in 40 countries.  Each time there was a need for a disaster management system that could help track goods along with manage personnel, reunite families, register volunteers, manage resources, produce reports, etc.  Unfortunately there was no globally accepted standard or package being used by governments, the UN, NGO’s or local responders.  We kept re-inventing systems and customizing them to the meet the needs of the disaster victims and impacted governments. 

We dreamed and craved for a simple, well designed solution that would allow us to use a single standardized international disaster management system that would be accepted by all major responding agencies, volunteers, and governments. Such a system could be utilized as an international disaster preparedness collaboration tool.  It could be used by governments in advance of a catastrophic disaster to help with smaller localized events while preparing for worst case scenarios.  It would provide a common ground for the sharing of ideas and information needed to build resiliency on a global basis. It was a great dream.   

On December 26, 2004 the Indian Ocean Tsunami struck causing a massive loss of life, infrastructure, property, and suffering.  Among the hardest hit areas were Indonesia, Sri-Lanka, India, and Thailand.  We dispatched teams to all of these locations and began working with senior government officials, UN leaders, NGO’s and local community leaders.  In total, over 670 dedicated individuals were directly involved in our deployment or supporting the CRT humanitarian relief efforts.  Again, the requirement for critical incident management systems quickly emerged. Once again we began writing and customizing systems with one major difference.  Multiple systems were being built under the concept that a consolidated global solution could be developed. In Indonesia we worked closely with OCHA (UN) and the Joint Logistics Center to match their global standards and recommendations for such a system.  In India our crisis response and programming team was highly advanced. They rapidly built disaster management systems based on previous experience in the Gujarat, India earthquake.  Displaced person registration systems, logistics management, relocation, camp management and GIS integration solutions were deployed within days.     

The major breakthrough took place in Sri-Lanka where the CRT began working with Dr. Sanjiva Weerawaran from the advanced IBM Watson Research Labs in New York.  We posed our challenge of repetitive creation and shared our dream with Dr. Sanjiva.  He responded with two words. “Open Source”.  In order to get global acceptance the systems had to be available at no cost to users.  The system could not be built on proprietary or licensed software platforms, and could not be owned by, or directly tied to, any private sector company, individual, country, UN agency, or NGO.  The solution had to belong to everyone.  The SAHANA Disaster Management System was born.

 The first module to be written and implemented was missing person registration.  With the thousands of family members missing or being relocated this was clearly a high priority.  Dr. Sanjiva began working with Mark Prutsalis, myself and members of the local open source community including the leader of the SAHANA team, Mr. Chamindra de Silva.  Multiple dedicated individuals and companies were represented on the team.  

Today, SAHANA is one of the worlds most successful, accepted, deployed and recognized critical incident management systems.  In 2006 SAHANA received the highest award in the “Open Source” industry from the Free Software Foundation.  SAHANA was given the Award for Social Benefit amongst other contenders such as OLPC, Project Gutenburg, and Wikipedia.

The SAHANA board of directors has set the following aspirations:

  1. Help alleviate human suffering and help save lives through the efficient use of IT software and systems during a disaster.

  1. Bring together a diverse set of actors from Government, Emergency Management, NGO’s, INGO’s, spontaneous volunteers and victims themselves in responding effectively to a disaster.

  1. Empower the victims, responders, and volunteers by enabling them to help themselves and others in an efficient and effective manner.

  1. Protect victim data and reduce the opportunity for data abuse

  1. Provide a Free and Open Source solution end-to-end available to everyone.

The currently available SAHANA applications are as follows:

  1. Missing Person Registry - helping to reduce trauma by effectively finding missing persons and reunite families

  1. Organizational Registry - coordinating and balancing the distribution of relief organizations in the affected areas and connecting relief groups allowing them to operate in a coordinated manner

  1. Request Management System -  registering and tracking all incoming requests for support and relief up to fulfillment and helping donors connect to relief requirements

  1. Camp Registry - tracking the location and numbers of victims in the various camps / relief centers or temporary shelters in the affected area

  1. Volunteer Management - coordinate the contact information, skills, assignments, and availability of volunteers and responders

  1. Inventory Management - tracking the location, quantities, expiration of supplies stored for utilization in a disaster

  1. Situation Awareness - providing a GIS (Google maps) overview of the situation including shelter locations, and responder deployment sites.

The following modules are under development and will be released soon as testing and quality control reviews are completed.

  1. Mass Evacuation Tracking - designed to help cities and governments in managing major evacuation efforts and tracking of displaced individuals

  1. Logistics and Supply Chain Management - designed to facilitate the receipt, tracking, and shipment of critical supplies into and out of warehouse facilities and distribution points in the impacted region. Scalable to meet local or government legal requirements.  Meets UN operational standards. (including medicine)

  1. Alert Management - utilization of CAPS and SMS for alert management

  1. Camp Management - tracking of all camp / shelter management activities including personnel, food, medical, inventory and support needs

  1. Child Protection Services - utilization of information and training materials to protect children from abuse and to track specific needs.

  1. Data Import - linkage to legacy systems, easy reporting, compatibility.

  1. Mobile/ PDA support - can be used for local collection of data including damage assessments, needs analysis, registration, tracking, etc.

A full demonstration of the SAHANA Disaster Management System including background information and download capability can be found on the web at:

IBM, the IBM logo, and the On Demand Business logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation in the United States, other countries, or both.  Other company, product, and service names may be trademarks or service marks of others. References in this publication to IBM products or services do not imply that IBM intends to make them available in all countries in which IBM operates. The IBM home page on the Internet can be found at

G510-6480-00 required for success, an international non-profit foundation (501-C3) appears to be the best fit. One such organization is the Global Partnership for Preparedness (GPP). This non-profit was established approximately one year ago. The Disaster Recovery Institute International (DRII) provided the initial financial support with private sector donations and endorsements from Public and Private Businesses, Inc. (PPBI) and many leading private sector corporations. The primary mission of GPP includes fostering global cooperation and coordination in disaster response and recovery. The GPP mission also includes supporting community preparedness and resilience efforts in the United States and internationally. To accomplish its mission, the partnership must operate delicately in close cooperation with UN and NGO agencies and major business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. The partnership will require a structure that can easily link and adapt to this global mix.

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