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Appallicious Launches FEMA Disaster Dashboard

The Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard pairs local resources with open data to improve local resiliency.

Recovery in the wake of disaster is never simple. But a new disaster dashboard, released today, aims to make rebounding after devastation a bit more manageable.

At the White House’s Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day -- an event promoting disaster preparedness solutions -- open data civic tech company Appallicious unveiled what it calls the Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard (DAAD). Still in beta, the dashboard is being billed as a solution that pairs local disaster response resources with open data, and offers citizens real-time developments and status updates, said Appallicious’ founder Yo Yoshida in a presentation. Key features are real-time mapping of relief locations, roadway conditions, weather notifications, and details on hospital and emergency first response centers.

The dashboard is more than just another emergency information display given its two distinctly compelling features.

First, thanks to open data, the dashboard can harness real-time emergency response data across numerous departments and agencies. When the service is fully developed, it will be a hub that harnesses disaster information from more than 100 application programming interfaces (APIs) -- systems that help process data and software requests  -- and will be filled with hundreds of data sets to help citizens and emergency crews assess current situations, Yoshida said. These include local government resources such as fire station, police station and hospital location data; federal data highlighting environmental hazards such as fires and flooding; and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And second, but equally unique, is the dashboard’s link to local labor and resources. Drawing upon the power of the local economy, the dashboard allows residents and city-based companies to post skills and equipment to aid in recovery efforts.

Citizens with CPR training or who have Community Emergency Response Training, for example, can volunteer services, Yoshida said. Similarly, companies with heavy machinery, construction equipment and other useful services can leverage the site to provide assistance. The hyper-local advertising and hiring of services is another way the dashboard can be used as a tool to rebuild catastrophe-stricken economies.

“It’s really just trying to empower the citizens to be able to educate themselves to prepare for disasters and respond post-disaster,” Yoshida said. “It’s something that breaks down the barriers of all the silos of all the different departments [responding to a disaster], so you can create these high-level layers that help everyone facilitate and communicate at so many different levels, both pre-disaster and post-disaster.”

Yoshida said planning of the cloud-based app dates back to 2013, when he’d been collaborating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during numerous data events in Washington, D.C. At the time, the agency had launched its OpenFEMA program and sought ways to utilize the program’s emergency data. After some discussion, Yoshida said he was called in the day before Christmas for a proposal on a crowdsourced open data emergency preparedness system.

“[FEMA] said, 'We need an answer [on a project proposal] because we’re going to pitch it to the White House the day after Christmas,'” Yoshida said. “So I locked myself in my room Christmas day and went through what FEMA data sets they were losing and what other data sets were out there.”

After an endorsement by FEMA to be part of its open data initiative, the dashboard was deployed in San Francisco as a pilot. Mark Farrell, the city's District 2 county supervisor, said San Francisco adopted the dashboard because of its ability centralize help for residents.

“For me personally, as someone who lived through the 1989 [Loma Prieta] earthquake as a child growing up in San Francisco, being resilient as a city right after an earthquake -- or when the next one hits -- is incredibly important,” he said. "I think Yo and the Appallicious team are incredible visionaries, and specifically in how they use government data to really benefit the lives of everyday residents in our neighborhoods.”

And in an emergency, the question the app answers best, Farrell said, is one of the simplest. 

“One of the more fundamental questions that gets asked is, 'Where do we go?'" Farrell said. “To have real-time government data available so residents can understand where the up-and-running disaster location centers are is step one in really recovering and trying to get reoriented.”

In the coming weeks, San Francisco residents and businesses will have a chance to submit information to the beta version of DAAD as the dashboard is introduced to the public by city and county departments.

Beyond San Francisco, Yoshida said he and his team are talking with other metropolitan cities, including Washington, D.C., about unleashing the dashboard. And cities don't need to have big budgets to take advantage of the system, Yoshida said: The dashboard is available for free as a "freemium" option for smaller cities and can be upgraded based on need.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.