Tech and Community Resilience: From the Tribes to Silicon Valley (Industry Perspective)

The Community Resilience Platform (CRP) is the first daily-use, customizable, white label preparedness, planning, response and recovery platform developed for communities to build their own regional and local resilience platforms.

by Yo Yoshida, founder, Appallicious / July 20, 2015

Last week, a New Yorker article about a catastrophic earthquake predicted for the Northwest — that will unleash its fury and “spell the worst natural disaster in the history of the continent” — stoked our nation’s collective fears about a disaster not unlike those seen in Hollywood blockbusters. And while stories such as this incite a high level of anxiety in the public, they also motivate people to start the huge undertaking of creating a resilient community that could respond and recover from a disaster of this magnitude. 

Real-time earthquake map of Washington state.

What is a resilient community? The $100 million Rockefeller Foundation project called 100 Resilient Cities defines it as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city [or community] to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” 

As a civic tech entrepreneur and founder of Appallicious, I have worked with the White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), nongovernmental organizations, universities, foundations, responders and local governments for a year and a half on a project to leverage technology and data to help communities respond to and recover from a disaster. I listened intently and took the best recommendations, ideas, theories and practices from all of these thought leaders and worked to integrate their ideas into to a customizable platform for daily and catastrophic events. What started as the first full-life cycle Disaster Assistance and Assessment Dashboard (DAAD) has been transformed through extensive iterative stakeholder development and design sessions into the Community Resilience Platform (CRP). The CRP is the first daily use, customizable, white label preparedness, planning, response and recovery platform developed for communities to build their own regional and local resilience platforms.

North West Tribal EM Council Deploys the Community Resilience Platform

Two communities are making revolutionary change in the disaster and community resilience world by utilizing technology to support, apply and facilitate their own Community Resilience Program, the first being the North West Tribal Emergency Management Council (NWTEMC). Under the leadership of Executive Director Lynda Zambrano and Disaster Resilience Officer Chelsea Nied, the NWTEMC signed a historic agreement with Appallicious to build the first Tribal Community Resilience Platform for 29 of the 276 tribes represented by the council. A second phase is planned for the remaining 247 Tribes.

As I explored the market through social media for early adopters and progressive leadership in Community Resilience and Disaster Management, the NWTEMC contacted me immediately. As we began discussions, it became very apparent that this organization, its leadership and communities were light years ahead of many progressive cities when it comes to thought and practice of community resilience and disaster management. It also became clear that there was a lack of resources and tools to support their work. 

The NWTEMC had been looking for a platform to engage with remote tribal communities and provide a single resource for daily engagement, education, preparedness, communication, assessment and response. The CRP was developed for exactly this purpose, and we were able to immediately demonstrate that we could not only provide a platform to support the remote tribes, but also could integrate all of the tribes the NWTEMC worked with to create the first Regional Resilience Platform. 

I want to make it very clear that the CRP nor any other disaster tech platform is not the solution for community resilience, but it can be a powerful digital toolbox to extend the reach and efficiency of the existing analog community resilience programs. Software should empower and enable communities to increase their capacity to educate, inform, assess and respond by creating a visual and interactive representation of the analog planning tools, thus creating the opportunity to scale and rapidly inform both responders and citizens.

Here is an early look at the manifestation of years of tribal resilience work by the NWTEMC and the digital application of their knowledge, relationships, data, communication and community at a regional level. Please note some of data is test data in this image (click image to enlarge).

A few of the NWTEMC Tribal Resilience Platform's capabilities will include real-time data on wildfires and earthquakes, along with photos, social media, communication, incident reporting, real-time geocoded mobile damage assessment and cleared building forms, capacity building, and local and regional Emergency Operating Centers (EOCs). The platform will also include data sets for climate change and predictive models for natural disasters, assets, resources, vulnerable populations, vulnerable and critical infrastructure. The NWTEMC Tribal Resilience Platform will be revealed at the annual National Joint Tribal Emergency Conference in August. The NWTEMC Community Resilience Program is a model for the nation, and their exemplary program should be replicated and scaled to every community in the world. 

San Francisco's Resilient Bayview Dashboard

The second community that requires national attention usually gets noticed for the wrong reasons. The San Francisco's Bayview district has been under-represented in every way and has chronic problems with unemployment, poverty and crime. In this district, Daniel Homsey of the San Francisco Neighborhood Empowerment Network and a core group of leaders and stakeholders — Erica Asteseros of the San Francisco Fire Department/CERT, Teri Dowling of city's Department of Public Health, dozens of city agencies, NGOs, and Bayvew community ceaders like G. L. Hodge and Felisia Thibodeaux — are leading a heroic and historic effort: to reach out to like-minded local business, organizations and individuals to build a neighborhood alliance called the Resilient Bayview. 

The Resilient Bayview alliance has worked hard to create substantial impact in the community, and in just two years has designed a community resilience plan, built a leadership structure, and implemented such programs as senior disaster training, CERT training, youth community empowerment initiatives, asset mapping, vulnerable populations mapping and disaster planning. The group will also soon be implementing community driven real-time disaster response exercises.

After 12 months of volunteering time and service in multiple monthly work groups within the community, I have the privilege of announcing that the Bayview community will be releasing the first ever Community Built Resilience Platform, named the Resilient Bayvew (RBV) Dashboard. This dashboard is for daily engagement with the community, providing information on resources, planning tools, participants, community vulnerabilities, economic development opportunities, local disaster modeling, community alliance badges, and communication and engagement tools.

Our product is nothing more than a digital extension of the program the neighborhood worked so hard to develop with Homsey’s Empowered Communities Program and the incredible group of government agencies and NGOs. What makes this technology tool so powerful is how it is being used. RBV is now using its platform as a planning and educational resource that will be utilized to reach other members of the community to collaborate, strengthen their resilience objectives on a daily basis, rapidly disseminate information and respond to any disaster.

As you watch the summer blockbuster San Andreas or read the New Yorker article on the catastrophic earthquake due to hit the Pacific Northwest, it is important to remember that the realities of disaster are looming. Rather than creating panic, this should act only as a motivator for communities and government to begin the great undertaking of preparing for huge catastrophes. And in doing so, they are building the relationships and community needed to tackle the daily stresses, in the end being able to recover from a major disaster. 

Lone Man (Isna-la-wica) Teton Sioux

I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself.

The NWTEMC and the Resilient Bayview are two stand-out examples of organizations that have taken on the enormous challenge of preparing their communities for any disaster, big or small. The approaches to resilience were completely different, but they are achieving the same goal.

What I've learned after hundreds of meetings with some of the world’s top experts is that there is no single solution for community resilience, no single institutional guide, no single technology or academic theory that creates resilience. Resilience starts and ends with a few like-minded people working together to plan and prepare for disasters both offline and now online. During a major disaster, there is no initial institutional, government or technological support. You are left to survive, respond and recover with the knowledge you gained while working with all of those organizations, people and technology. Simply put, resilience lives and dies with the relationships, resources and knowledge you built while developing your resilient community.