November 15, 2012

Tech-enabled groups, tools provide nimble aid after Hurricane Sandy

Posted by: in North America

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a good deal of the disaster recovery has come in the form of tech-enabled solutions that rely on crowdsourcing and peer-to-peer solutions—approaches that can quickly and efficiently match up supplies with demand and victims with volunteers, often before government and big aid organizations roll out their efforts. As The New York Times reports, the New York Tech Meetup enlisted hundreds of potential volunteers to create tech tools tailored to the situation; one of these, the Sandy Coworking Crowdmap, helped displaced businesses find free spots to work. Recovers.org is a startup that provides tools for efficiently coordinating volunteers, donations and information through a dedicated site (TownName.Recovers.org). Businessweek reports that post-Sandy, its co-founder set up one such site, for Manhattan’s Lower East Side neighborhood, and more than 5,600 people registered as volunteers within a week. (Ideally an organizer sets up the site before a disaster, with preparation tips.)

A more grassroots, very effective effort has been coordinated by Occupy Wall Street, under the moniker Occupy Sandy. The New York Times notes that while established aid groups weren’t set up to coordinate the outpouring of volunteer offers that followed the disaster—one in which parts of the area were devastated, while others were hardly affected, leaving many able to help—Occupy Sandy was able to nimbly match volunteers with needs through several quickly set-up distribution sites as well as prolific Facebook and Twitter postings.

Meanwhile, government entities have worked with online peer-to-peer businesses, leveraging their unique capabilities. New York City partnered with room-rental service Airbnb to match newly homeless people with those willing to provide a free bed. And Waze, a crowdsourced traffic app, helped the Federal Emergency Management Agency figure out where to send refueling trucks as the gas shortage worsened, asking its users to report on the situation at gas stations they visited.

Image credit: Recovers.org

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