Canadian and American Red Cross Talk Strategy at SMW

“Inspire people to do actionable items using social media.” Our CrisisCommons Canada team likes to call it Applied Social Media. We create,do stuff…and talk about it.

Karen Snider of the Canadian Red Cross and Wendy Harman of the American Red Cross presented their Social Media Case Studies at Social Media Week and the Toronto Social Media Club on February 9, 2011.

Karen and the Canadian Red Cross team are great supporters of CrisisCommons Canada. We have a common goal of sharing information and digital volunteerism. Karen introduced the new CRC Social Media team that is gearing up to support CRC activities across the country. (Their twitter handles are in the screen capture below.) We are very excited to continue our conversations with CRC and find new ways to collaborate as digital volunteers and partners. In the past year, the Canadian Red Cross has been testing social media strategy for small projects. More details can be found on the RedCrossTalks Blog.

Last night was my first time meeting Wendy Harman in person. She is a leader in SMEM for social good and has inspired me for the past year. The power of the SMEM network is that we built connections online and share many people in common. Wendy created the American Red Cross’s Social Media Strategy Handbook. This is available free online to use and remix. We truly look forward to more SMEM conversations in Canada and with our Amercian friends.

Next time I will set up a liveblog for events. In the meantime, here are some of the snippets about Canadian and American Red Cross social media case studies:


Online and In-Person Boot-camp – Social Media Week 2011

Social media Week is here and I am busy trying to figure out my schedule of online and in person events. In a way, I consider it bootcamp to learn as much as I can in one week. It should be no surprise that I have tailored my schedule based on crisis response, risk management, emergency response, social media for social good and technology innovation. I am hoping that some of the SMW events are streamed or liveblogged.

Last year I had the honour to present at SMW. I’m excited to focus on learning. My schedule is subject to change as I need to research activities in some of the other cities.

I’ll be in line for the 15-minute wait list for this: Social for Social Good – the power, politics and potential of ideas and causes to change the world.

OpenStreetMap – Mappy Hour. While it is not an official SMW event, I consider it important. Location, location, open source, location.


Gamify Me (NYC)
TechSoup/NetSquared: Using Technology for Grant Writing Workshop


Social Media Club: Case Studies from American and Canadian Red Cross
Smartphones, Cocktails and 100 years of McLuhan

Open UN

Social Media’s Dark Side: Risks, Reasons and Remedies

Pending schedule.

More details:

Mashable has a listing of all the events they will be covering.


Snowmap and upcoming Social Media/Crisis Management Events

Mapping and strategies for Social Media in emergencies/crisis in Canada are new concepts. I am working with the CrisisCommons Canada team to bring crowdsourcing home. We have a few events and beta tests on the go. This is the beginning. I believe in the power of Internet communities and an open web making a difference in our country and the world.

Snow in Toronto – Crowdmap.com Beta

CrisisCamp Toronto set up a map to help Toronto folks report about this week’s snowstorm. We decided on Monday night. Melanie Gorka, Brian Chick, David Black and I built out the map, process and created a press release. Using the format of the Crisismappers.net Standby Task Force, we took the best practices and fit them to our team. We reached out the the CrisisCamp Toronto communities and our own networks. In 5 days, we had 42 posts, 620 unique visitors and about 30 re-tweets. Our goals were to test our process and create a Canadian proof-of-concept. We will prepare an After-Action-Report with the full results. The response we received from Ontario, Toronto and Canadian government officials and the media was fantastic. We are working on preparedness strategies with our partners. Stay tuned for more initiatives. Here is our Snowmap:

CrisisCamp Toronto is hosting a Social Media / Emergency Management event on Feb. 19th

We invite Emergency Managers and New Media Technologists to join us and share their skills. This SM/EM (Social Media/Emergency Management) event is to help our community be more prepared and to build partnerships between Canadian emergency management, NGO, project managers, software developers, technical experts and social media folks. This includes GIS/OSM training. There is a second stream of activity to make and test tools.

As well, we are taking project submissions. Each person will present their idea. Then, the group will vote on the project and begin to brainstorm on the next steps. We want to build solutions for Canadian crisis and emergencies.

On a personal note, I am super excited that Sara Farmer of UN Global Pulse and the CrisisMappers team will be joining us. She formerly ran CrisisCamp in London. The CrisisCommons community is a global family. We aim to exchange ideas. It is a great chance to learn from someone who has been working on some amazing projects.

Sign up for the event.

Random Hacks of Kindness – Survey and Canadian plans

All participants of Canada’s first Random Hacks of Kindness event received a survey this week. The RHoK team is gearing up for 2011. Watch this space for announcements. RHoK Global encourages partnerships with universities for upcoming events. We found great success partnering with University of Toronto. And, we can’t wait to share with other cities.


Bring Crowdsourcing Home – Crowdsourcing Fire and Floods

It is a goal to bring Crowdsourcing home in 2011. Our CrisisCommons Toronto team attended a meeting with the Ontario Government, Ministry of Natural Resources on January 18, 2011. It was an honour to have our first official Canadian provincial government meeting.

I presented this overview to attendees. Crisismapper volunteers from Russia and Australia provided some input with their lessons learned for fire crowdsourcing implementations. This is the power of global volunteer technology communities. We had a great discussion about barriers in remote regions, mapping techniques and government policy. Over 75% of forest fires reported in Ontario are by the public. We intend to use the latest tools available to share with mapping visual information.

Officials were very receptive to continuing our discussions. I will post the next steps as they evolve.



RHoK follow-up: Population Centers in Disaster

At Random Hacks of Kindness 2.0 (December 2010), volunteers from CrisisCamp TO, RHoK Seattle, Humanity Road, Sahana and OpenStreetMap joined to work on a project called: Populations Centers in Disaster. Each of our groups continue to commit time and knowledge to complete this project.

Three days after the devastating quake struck Haiti, the towns of Jacmel and Leogane were still isolated — no communication or transportation — though we knew people were there: 128,000 in Leogane and 40,000 in Jacmel. A data query tool that identifies high concentrations of population may help volunteer technology communities with their communication efforts. A lack of communication inside a population zone points to a problem and the query tools being developed may help speed up and improve volunteer contributions to situational awareness.

@Redcrossmom @CNN I know you have lots of crew on the ground in PAP but very little news is coming from outside of PAP – Jacmel & Leogane need help. (Twitter, January 15, 2010).

Situational Awareness

At the onset of a disaster, time lost means lives lost. As virtual volunteers, Humanity Road’s first response step is to identify affected hospitals. In an event that impacts a large geographic area, we need to quickly triage the situation and determine which population centers are affected. Part of this decision process involves identifying areas of population concentrations. For this, we have been turning first to Wikipedia to identify and understand the local area. Using this approach to search for information is manual, time intensive and requires multiple keystrokes of the same type of information. Manual research of standard information means time lost and that equates to lives lost. We look for cities within range of the epicenter of the earthquake or event, populations of those cities, hospitals within the impacted area, GPS coordinates, and local government structures for towns, counties and districts. Sometimes the absence of news does not indicate the absence of need.


(RHoK Toronto, December 4, 2010. Photo by Cynthiagould.com)

The Project

We need a tool that would allow us to extract from Wikipedia into a Google Doc – the population centers for a defined area – such as City, District, Country. This would improve our volunteer response time. Humanity Road has previously worked with Sahana, Google, Gisli Olafsson and others to determine project needs.

The RHoK problem descriptions submitted included an outline for a query tool that would return the population centers within a boundary. The bonus tool would return results of hospitals in an impacted area, including contact information and GPS.

The RhoK Toronto team focused on the Hospital solution, while the Seattle team focused on the Population centers solution. The teams collected the data into Google fusion tables. By the end of the weekend, they had collected and stored a significant amount data that will help in future events.

The Next Steps

Data will reside within Sahana Eden, and be exported (Google Fusion Doc) for directed use by Humanity Road. Google Fusion Doc may have data limit parameters. The tool will help non-super users volunteering for Resource Management. Final product will reside on the Sahana database accompanied by the capability to extract specific hospital datasets.

The project needs presentation tools to help spontaneous volunteers work with the data. This includes criteria for data updates, to include the notes on impacts of infrastructure, operational impacts (damage, flood etc) of the hospitals query, developing the functional query for the populations center, and determining server space, and file formats for storing the data in open source format for all to access and use.

How you can Help:

1. Server space
2. DB specialist/developer to create query:finds objects (populations, host) within latitude and longitude radius. A query that finds “x” within radius of lat and long within the database
3. Support for a radius query to Sahana Eden

Our current project status:

1. Colin: talked with his Toronto – OSM folks about doing a OSM location hospital query
2. Heather/Cat/Pat: write a blog post and being outreach program
3. Terrance/Pat: will work on Sahana Eden component
4. Cat: will identify primary data fields
5. Colin/Pat/Terrance: share script
6. Pat: will start investigating the Final product- Sahana db, but with capability to have a hospital db can be pulled for a specifics.
7. Willow: Seattle team is on stand-by for the next steps.

We welcome any help you can provide. Contact: Heather (heather at textontechs dot com) or Cat (PeacefulIntent at humanityroad dot org)

Post by Cat Graham (Humanity Road) and Heather Leson (CrisisCampTO/RHoK TO)


Haiti Seminar: Communications and Volunteers

On Monday, I had the distinct honour to participate in a seminar at York University: The Haiti Earthquake of Jan 2010: Lessons Learned.“. Brian Chick and I were on a panel with Kenneth Kidd of the Toronto Star: Role of the Local, National and International Media; Communication Challenges; Reality, Myths, and Perception Issues.

Presenting at York University
(Photo by Morgen Peers)

The responder was Jean Claude Louis of Janos Canada/Caribbean. He talked about the plight of Haitian Journalists and their communities. Janos has a number of future projects focused on Haitian stories. Jean mentioned a site focused on children’s stories: “Voice of the Children“(in Kreyol). I mentioned that Carel Pedre, a Haitian radio announcer collaborated on a CrisisCamp project:The New Haiti Project.

The audience was happy to hear that CrisisCommons will be released a CrisisCamp After Action Report about our activities: a project that I contributed consultant work to CrisisCommons. One other question asked us whether we had contacts in Haiti during our effort. I responded that our value is in supporting the existing Crisis Response Organizations. The report will be released in the coming weeks.

Communication and Volunteers
Presented by Heather Leson and Brian Chick
January 10, 2011

Each of the presenters provided their lessons learned and perspectives. Humanitarian aid in Haiti was a difficult and, at times, daunting, endeavor. All of the presentations will be posted on the York University site in the coming days.

This is a time of reflection for anyone whose life was touched by the emergency response efforts in Haiti. Last night I watched TVO’s program: “Inside Disaster“. The volunteers and Haitians provided an overwhelming picture of life just days after the earthquake. I remain in awe of the efforts of humanitarian workers and hope that some day new media and communications volunteers can truly make a difference and assist.


Haiti – One Year Anniversary

Once you volunteer your knowledge, time and energy for humanitarian aid and response, your life will change. As we mark the one-year anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake, there will be reflections, reports, seminars, meet-ups and, most of all, conversations. I am committed to volunteering and working in the field of technology for social good and technology for crisis response.

Here are some of the events that I will be participating:

York University Seminar: “The HAITI Earthquake of Jan 2010: LESSONS LEARNED” (Monday, January 10, 2011)

York University’s Disaster and Emergency Management Program, School of Administrative Studies in Collaboration with Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) are hosting this event. Brian Chick and I will present on the panel discussion: “Role of the Local, National and International Media; Communication Challenges; Reality, Myths, and Perception Issues“.

Some of the topics I will cover include:

  • the new volunteer
  • volunteer technical communities
  • CrisisCamp and CrisisCommons movement
  • lessons learned on a global level

Brian will cover the social media tool-set and lessons learned on a local level.

CrisisCamp Toronto event – Thursday, January 13 2010.

Join us for CrisisCamp Toronto’s One-Year Anniversary Meet-up. Register for the event.


On January 13, 2010, I joined the first CrisisCommons global conference call and began organizing CrisisCamp Toronto: Canada’s first CrisisCommons community. CrisisCamp Toronto started with Twitter and Facebook outreach. By January 19th, we had a core team of Toronto volunteers and the first event scheduled for January 23, 2010. We held 5 events in response to the Haiti and Chile earthquakes.

As a young organization, we know there is room to grow. Our team will plan our training and projects for the upcoming year. Building on our learning, we will continue to foster our community in Toronto and Canada. We are the new breed of volunteers learning as fast as we can to meet emergency responders and humanitarian groups with our technology and social media knowledge.

CrisisCommons Community Call
On the one year anniversary of the first 5 CrisisCamps, our community will hold a global conference call on Sunday, January 16, 2011. More details soon.



Bushfire Connect: An Australian Ushahidi project

Bushfire Connect is a project to help Australians crowdsource reports about bushfires. The Australian bushfire season is during December and January. The Bushfire Connect team is monitoring the current bushfires on their Twitter account: @bushfireconnect.

They need help testing their Ushahidi site. In June 2010 for Random Hacks of Kindness 1.0 in June 2010 (Sydney, Australia), I had the opportunity to meet these dedicated volunteers. The project continues to evolve and will be launching soon.


Keren Flavell, Initiator and Online Media Producer and Anthony Joseph, Developer on Bushfire Connect:

What is it?
Bushfire Connect is an online bushfire crisis service presenting real time information submitted by local community members and emergency agencies. Our goal is to establish a reliable, dynamic and timely resources for people in fire threatened or damaged areas to enhance and extend the utility of official data sources.

The service has been developed using the ground-breaking Ushahidi platform, a geo-spatial communication system implemented after disasters in Haiti, Chile and, most recently, Pakistan.

Who is behind it?

Establishing this tool here in Australia in preparation for the bushfire season has been the mission of a small team of volunteers from a range of backgrounds. Spatial information strategist, Maurits van der Llugt, teamed with online media producer, Keren Flavell, to initially kick start the project. Once it was worked on intensively at Random Hacks of Kindness, technical experts Daniela Fernandez and Anthony Joseph continued to work on the project. ICT strategist and Drumbeat Australia organiser, Vicky Pinpin-Feinstein, has joined the team as an advisor.

Where are we at now?
The project took shape after the Random Hacks of Kindness event in Sydney, where the first installation was deployed. Since then, the project has continued to be refined to include features such as submitting reports by SMS and registering to receive alerts in specific geographic regions.

We are in discussions with emergency agencies and media organisations about potential partnerships. A not-for-profit is being established to receive funds for further development and to keep the project independent from any single agency or organisation.

What do we need?
Bushfire Connect needs to funding and partners in order to create a robust and effective tool for community driven crisis alerts during the bushfire season.

We are looking to raise funds for the pilot testing and fire season preparation phases of development.

Next Steps?
The service is now ready for pilot testing by the community. We want to refining the user experience by reviewing icons and wording of the current site. There needs to be load testing of the servers and appropriate server enhancements to deal with high demand. We also need to build a volunteer moderation taskforce through recruitment and training.

Further Information
The Ushahidi blog featured their work in October.

Canadian forest fires

Wildfires, bushfires, and forest fires are a global problem. Using crowdsourcing, there is an opportunity to use technology to make a difference. What if all the lessons learned from each of these projects were used to build one simulator and one pattern for any country or region to use?

I grew up in northern Canada where forest fires are a large problem. Learning about Bushfire Connect while attending RHoK 1.0 in Sydney and monitoring the Ushahidi work that the Russian wildfire team did inspires me. Someday we will bring this technology and crowdsourcing to the Canadian north. All we need is a mobile phone (SMS) plan, an Ushahidi server install and a team of people to work with Canadian authorities to make it happen.


Press Release: Improving Disaster Response and Humanitarian Aid in Times of Crisis

Improving Disaster Response and Humanitarian Aid in Times of Crisis

New project harnesses technology to create new form of digital volunteerism

(Cross-posted from the Crisiscommons.org blog)

We have come a long way together in the last year as a community and a concept, and today the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was awarded a two year, $1.2 million dollar grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This grant is to support CrisisCommons as a full-time project for two years working in collaboration with the Wilson Center. This is a exciting step for our community as it provides support to further the opportunity to develope a commons-based approach to crisis management and global development.

As of January 1, 2011, CrisisCommons will continue its work as a project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The grant will focus on three main objectives:

  1. To provide community and technology liaison support during and after disasters;
  2. To facilitate a shared approach to research and innovation; and
  3. To establish trust and formalize relationships in the crisis response and volunteer technology communities.

Activities underneath will include providing community and infrastructure support for CrisisCamp and convening of the second and third annual International CrisisCongress. Outcomes aim to include growth and tools for CrisisCamp community and a Technology roadmap as well as a Research and Innovation Agenda. We will be conducting an open call on Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 1:00PM EST. Everyone is welcome to join! Check our Google group for updates!

The grant runs from January 1, 2011 until December 31, 2012, so we’re only a few weeks away from starting. In preparation, if you have any thoughts on what are priorities for CrisisCommons in the next six months, year or two years, please email us with any and all suggestions/thoughts.

More Great News! CrisisCommons Infrastructure To Be Hosted By OSU’s Open Source Lab

In addition to the Sloan grant announcement, CrisisCommons is pleased to also announce a partnership with Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab to provide infrastructure resources for CrisisCamp and CrisisCommons. We are delighted to be able to learn from experts in open source communities and provide scalable and reliable resources for CrisisCamp technology innovation and response efforts.

We are so happy to share with you a note from Deb Bryant at OSL, “The Oregon State University Open Source Lab is proud to host CrisisCommons, along with several other humanitarian free and open source software projects. We are pleased that we are able to strengthen the community as they pursue their mission to help those most in need.”

Many Thanks To Paula and David

We would like to express our deepest thanks to Dr. Paula Olsiewski, our Project Director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Her enthusiastic support and championing of our work as well as her generous guidance have been invaluable for both the development of this grant and for the planning grant (again in collaboration with the Wilson Center) from earlier this year.

We are incredibly grateful for our partnership with Dr. David Rejeski, Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholar’s Science and Technology Innovation Program who has been our “rock.” He provides guidance as well as bandwidth to be as creative and innovative as we can be. He, along with Paula, have mentored the Commons in considerations.

Gratitude To Each One Of You

We are very grateful for each and every person who came out to CrisisCamp, worked virtually and who continue on the journey with us.

We especially want to thank our workgroup leads, Heather Leson, Deborah Shaddon, Chad Catachio, Melanie Gorka and Jasmin Phau for their commitment to documenting insights and reflections in infrastructure, projects and community. We especially want to thank Chris “Spike” Foote who continues to keep the fires burning on the wiki and servers. There are hundred of people and organizations who volunteered and continue to lead efforts across the world. We are very grateful to you all.

There were six organizations who wrote letters of support of our request to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation including the World Bank, American Red Cross, John Hopkins University Department of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University at Silicon Valley, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. We thank you all for your support.

We are especially grateful to the World Bank. They have supported CrisisCamp and helped foster the development of the concept of CrisisCommons since the very first CrisisCamp in 2009. We are very thankful for their continued support of our efforts, including hosting the First International CrisisCongress this past July. In particular, we are grateful to the many components of the World Bank who have been steadfast in support of CrisisCamp and CrisisCommons, including Latin America and Caribbean Group, the East Asia Pacific Group, Innovation Practice Group and the Global Facility on Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

We want to thank our good friends who have collaborated since day one and believe, like we do, in the power of technology volunteers and open data. We are so grateful for their support, partnership and friendship of Patrick Meier of Ushahidi, Jen Ziemke of CrisisMappers, Mark Prusalis of the Sahana Foundation, Mikel Miron and Kate Chapman from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, John Crowley of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Dr. Linton Wells from the National Defense University’s STAR-TIDES program, Schuyler Erle and all the great folks at Random Hacks of Kindness with particular hugs to Patrick Svenburg of Microsoft, Jeremy Johnstone of Yahoo! and Prem Ramaswami of Google.

We want to highlight the genius of our research leads Chaira Lucchini Gilera and Geetu Ambwani as well as writing prowess Colin Flood who contributed to research and writing of the First International CrisisCongress After Action Report (to be released in January 2011) which accompanied this proposal. Big twinkles for you guys.

We want to thank Colin MacLay at the Berkman Center and Dr. William Dutton at the Oxford Internet Institute for hosting roundtables which helped us validate our approach of the challenges and potential opportunities of CrisisCommons concept. We also want to thank Tim O’Reilly for having us at FooCamp and Rob Dudgeon for inviting us to participate as an observer at the Golden Guardian Exercise.

We want to share gratitude for Mitchell Baker, Mark Surman, Chelsea Novak and Matt Thompson at the Mozilla Foundation for providing community facilitation support from Allen Gunn of Aspiratech to moderate the First International CrisisCongress. We don’t think we can live without him now!

We also want to thank Craig Newmark and Susan Nesbitt from the craigslist foundation who have coached us and provided unwavering public support for our efforts. A big thanks goes to Andrew Rasiej and the Personal Democracy Forum for his longstanding support and passionate belief in the power of technology volunteers.

Big thanks to Stuart Bowness at SimpleStation for helping us on the Website and for being such as champion of the Commons.

There are so many friends who have helped us along the way. They read drafts of the proposal, provided guidance, entertained millions of questions and emails and were always kind to offer a hand of support.

We are thankful to each and every one of you.

To all those who created CrisisCamps, we would not be here without you! To all our friends within the volunteer technology communities and crisis response organizations, academia and the private sector – we thank you all.

Looking forward to a bright future ahead!

((Twinkles x 1000 + a big phat love bomb))

Heather, Noel and Andrew


RHoK Toronto and Global Wrap-up

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) 2.0 and the Open Data Hackathon Day (ODHD) was held December 4 – 5, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. It was our first Canadian RHoK. Toronto had 52 participants collaborated on eight projects. The RHoK team joined over 1000 participants in 20 cities while the ODHD team had participants in 73 cities.

(RHoK Toronto team. Photo by Cynthia Gould)

About the Toronto event

Team video presentations for the RHoKto/ODHD problem definitions .

We were honoured to have Will Pate (World Bank), Joey deVilla (Microsoft Canada), Adam Thody (Architech Solutions), Stephanie Ashton-Smith (Plan Canada) and Ben Lucier (Tucows Inc.) join us as hackathon judges.

The Winners:

1st: Stolen Bicycle Serial Number Validator (ODHD)
2nd: Tweak the Tweet – User Testing (RHoK)
3rd: Payout to Mobile (RHoK)

MVP for being a leader/mentoring folks: Jon Pipitone

Novelty Prizes:

Good Housekeeping- TtT
Ivor Kenk Prize- Bicycle
Bed Bug Award- Where not to rent
Austerity Award- City Budget
CrowdSourced Award- WeAreHelping
Where’s Waldo- Person FInder
Heat Map Award- Population Centers
Geico Gecko Award- Payout to Mobile

Globalnews.ca joined us and wrote about the event.
Mark Kuznicki: Hacking for Good
Melanie Gorka: RHoKing out in Toronto

More Pictures by Ben Lucier and Cynthia Gould.

The full Toronto project from the RHoK wiki.

RHoK around the World

Here are some of the great highlights from RHoK:

*UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon spoke a RHoK NYC and talked about the importance of open source communities collaborating with development groups.
*NPR coverage (with podcast)
*Hack examples from around the world: Aarhus, Denmark (Connectivity Mapper), Berlin (Germany) (Disaster Maps) Lusaka (Zambia) and Jakarta (Indonesia) (Disaster Streaming)
*From the CrisisCommons community blog: Technology volunteers from Crisiscamp Support RHoK events

Our friends with CrisisCamp Paris created a complete RHoK2 social media stream.

Thanks again to all our RHoKto sponsors

Architech Solutions
, Camaraderie, CIRA, Global News, Hackto, Happy Worker, Idee Inc., Jonah Group, Left Button Solutions, MacQuarie Group, Microsoft Canada, Planet Geek, Remarkk, Syncapse, TechSoup Canada, Tucows Inc. , Unspace, and University of Toronto.

Thanks again to the RHoKto core team

Special note of thanks to all the amazing Core team members: Mark Kuznicki, Meghann Millard, Sandi Jones, David Desko, David Black, Brian Chick, Melanie Gorka, Leila Boujnane and Christine Crowley. It was an awesome pleasure to make this happen with each of your amazing talents.


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