Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) jointly challenged a group of over 80 top innovators from around the country to come up with ways to improve disaster response and recovery efforts. This diverse group of stakeholders, consisting of representatives from Zappos, Airbnb, Marriott International, the Parsons School of Design, AOL/Huffington Post’s Social Impact, The Weather Channel, Twitter, Topix.com, Twilio, New York City, Google and the Red Cross, to name a few, spent an entire day at the White House collaborating on ideas for tools, products, services, programs, and apps that can assist disaster survivors and communities.
This collaboration is a great example of this Administration’s commitment to convening private-sector talent and innovators to work with public servants in order to deliver better results for the American people. The event mobilized innovators from the private sector, nonprofits, artistic organizations, and Federal as well as local government agencies to develop solutions that support and integrate both public and private efforts for disaster relief. It also comes as our Nation prepares for what is usually the peak of Hurricane Season. In fact, the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Irene fell last week, and the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy is approaching.
During the “Data Jam/Think Tank,” we discussed response and recovery challenges with the participants and other Federal leaders, including Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Energy and Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. The participants then broke into subgroups to brainstorm innovative ideas for addressing those challenges, vote on the best ideas, and commit to implementing them.
Below are some of the ideas that were developed throughout the day. In the case of the first two ideas, participants wrote code and created actual working prototypes.
- A real-time communications platform that allows survivors dependent on electricity-powered medical devices to text or call in their needs—such as batteries, medication, or a power generator—and connect those needs with a collaborative transportation network to make real-time deliveries.
- A technical schema that tags all disaster-related information from social media and news sites – enabling municipalities and first responders to better understand all of the invaluable information generated during a disaster and help identify where they can help.
- A Disaster Relief Innovation Vendor Engine (DRIVE) which aggregates pre-approved vendors for disaster-related needs, including transportation, power, housing, and medical supplies, to make it as easy as possible to find scarce local resources.
- A crowdfunding platform for small businesses and others to receive access to capital to help rebuild after a disaster, including a rating system that encourages rebuilding efforts that improve the community.
- Promoting preparedness through talk shows, working closely with celebrities, musicians, and children to raise awareness.
- A “community power-go-round” that, like a merry-go-round, can be pushed to generate electricity and additional power for battery-charged devices including cell phones or a Wi-Fi network to provide community internet access.
- Aggregating crowdsourced imagery taken and shared through social media sites to help identify where trees have fallen, electrical lines have been toppled, and streets have been obstructed.
- A kid-run local radio station used to educate youth about preparedness for a disaster and activated to support relief efforts during a disaster that allows youth to share their experiences.
Before ending the brainstorm, participants committed to taking responsibility for turning these ideas into tangible actions. We will be excited to see how these materialize into impactful projects that will support disaster response and recovery efforts. Our sincere thanks to all of the participants!
Todd Park is Assistant to the President and US Chief Technology Officer. Rich Serino is the Deputy Administrator of FEMA.