Mobile App Speeds Up Family Reunification in Humanitarian Emergencies


rapidftrDuring the commotion of a natural disaster or armed conflict, children are often separated from their caregivers. The longer a child is missing, the greater the risk that they will not be found and will become victims of violence or exploitation. As a result, the immediate aftermath of an emergency is especially critical for tracing and reunifying families.

The new Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification (RapidFTR) open-source mobile application and data storage system aims to drastically expedite this process. The application allows humanitarian aid workers to collect, sort and share photos and information from unaccompanied minors on their mobile devices and laptops. Once a child has been registered in the database, their information is accessible to child protection workers from different agencies throughout the affected region.

RapidFTR was first conceived by graduate students from NYU’s Interactive Technology Program who were taking a ‘Design for UNICEF’ course in 2009. In late 2010, field research and testing was conducted by UNICEF and the RapidFTR team in Gulu, Kitgum and Kampala, Uganda. To date, the application has been implemented in Ugandan IDP camps and, more recently, in the Philippines after typhoon Haiyan, which resulted in the displacement of 1.5 million children.

Until now, family reunification has been an inefficient and extremely time-consuming, paper-driven process. With the introduction of the innovative RapidFTR app, reunification has been streamlined, which means less time is lost in the critical initial hours following the emergency. Additionally, because the app is open source, it is fully accessible to teams using different mobile platforms.

IMG_1572The efficiency and versatility of the RapidFTR app makes it highly conducive for emergency relief efforts. UNICEF envisions RapidFTR becoming the standard tool used by all humanitarian and child protection agencies to document unaccompanied and separated children in the future. If it continues to produce positive results, the app will likely be incorporated into standard emergency supply kits. The only foreseeable obstacle would be ensuring aid workers also have access to a reliable source of power to charge mobile devices.

In addition to standardizing the family reunification process, the RapidFTR app could potentially also be used in lieu of traditional paper-based birth registration, and to document vulnerable children in non-emergency settings.

To learn more about RapidFTR, visit UNICEF Innovation.


Courtney Mollenhauer

Courtney Mollenhauer

Courtney is a writer and development professional based in Toronto, Canada.


  1. Pingback: Child Need a Vaccine? There’s an App For That - Innovate Development

  2. Pingback: Unpacking the Mobi-Case: UNICEF’s Digital School-in-a-Box - Innovate Development

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

16 + 6 =