VOST Portugal began thanks to four people that didn’t even know each other, during the forest fires in Monchique in August 2018. There was a lack of information about what was happening during the first nights and these four people started to gather information and spread it on Twitter. I was one of those people.
VOST stands for Virtual Operations Support Team. The team is made up of volunteers that help official entities spread information before, during, and after natural disasters. VOST local teams also help to stop hoaxes and rumours that spread on social networks. We are the online arm of the local civil protection.
As a programmer, I have a skillset that means that with a few lines of code, I can do things that have an impact on society. I know how difficult it can be for public authorities to develop technology that’s really useful for citizens. So, it just didn’t make sense not to use my skillset to serve the public.
It’s extremely rewarding to know that we’ve done something for the world, for a community, or even one person. That’s the best part. During hurricane Leslie, VOST Portugal were able to find a family and a person after requests were sent to us by private message on Twitter. It was so rewarding to be able to give good news that everyone was safe.
As well as volunteering for VOST, I also developed Fogos.pt, which sends notifications when there are new fires in Portugal. Once, a man received a notification of a new fire near his grandmother’s house. He immediately went to meet her. A few hours later, his grandmother’s house had completely burned down. He sent a message to thank me, because if it wasn’t for the notification, he wouldn’t have gone to fetch his grandma and he couldn’t have saved the belongings in the house either.
Above all else, the work of a VOST Portugal volunteer is altruistic work. It’s easy to volunteer, with no special knowledge in any particular area needed. You just need to be mindful of what is happening in the world, have the spirit to help people and not be drawn in by misinformation. In emergencies, the only information that has value is credible information. It is very important for us that the information we broadcast has been validated over and over again before it goes online.
At a time when everything is questioned, where interests and schemes are seen in all sectors of society, it is important for the community to realise that there are no other interests here. That no one is paid to do this and the only thing that makes us do it is good faith and the goodwill to help others.