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White House Innovation Day Highlights Disaster Response, Recovery

Emergency managers converged with the tech community to discuss tools that can create more resilient communities.

Emergency managers converged with the tech community in Washington, D.C., to discuss tools that can create more resilient communities and also positively impact disaster preparedness, response and recovery. The White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day on July 29 showcased new innovations in both government and the private sector that aim to aid the survivors of large-scale emergencies.

The key goal is to “find the most efficient and effective ways to empower survivors to help themselves,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, adding that there have been many technological advancements since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“We all know that tech in the wake of a disaster isn’t helpful,” Park said. So the demo day sought to highlight new initiatives and how emergency managers can work with and benefit from them.

“You all here today and the effort that’s associated with this really do help bring the whole-of-nation approach to building preparedness because it relies upon integrating the efforts of the private sector, nongovernmental actors, communities, individuals, federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments,” said Rand Beers, deputy homeland security adviser to the White House National Security Council. “What we need to do is to build on this collective group of people who are committed to making our country safer and to responding to these kind of issues.”

Numerous government agencies and companies made announcements during the event, including:

CITY72 TOOLKIT — San Francisco launched an open source tool based off its emergency preparedness portal, SF72 portal. The City72 Toolkit helps emergency managers create their own site, while benefiting from lessons learned by San Francisco. Kristin Hogan Schildwachter, external affairs specialist for the city’s Department of Emergency Management, said current messaging focuses on pushing people to extremes and doesn’t build on current tools that the public is already using to communicate. The customizable Web platform is also in use in Johnson County, Kan., and branded as JoCo72.

AIRBNB — The sharing economy platform used to locate a place to stay now has memorandums of understanding in place with Portland, Ore., and San Francisco to work with the cities before, during and after an emergency. Airbnb’s director of public policy and civic partnerships, Molly Turner, outlined the four parts of the partnership:

  1. to identify hosts who will house emergency workers and survivors;
  2. to provide preparedness materials to hosts;
  3. to provide emergency alerts to hosts and their guests about hazards; and
  4. to provide community response training to hosts, helping them to become community leaders.
POWER OUTAGE DATA — Going forward, a number of electric companies will publish their power outage and restoration data in a standard format so that tools like Google Crisis Map can make the information easily accessible to the public. During Hurricane Sandy, this information wasn’t openly available, leading Google to post links to the different utilities’ sites but not being able to incorporate it into its information, according to Nigel Snoad of the company’s Crisis Response and Civic Innovation arm. He also said another addition is that Google will include crowdsourcing capabilities in the Crisis Map.

LANTERN LIVE — Inspired by lessons learned from Sandy where situational awareness was lacking, particularly around the status of fuel and which gas stations were open, the U.S. Department of Energy is preparing to beta test Lantern Live, a new mobile app. Its features will include: the status of gas stations; the ability to report a power outage and downed power lines with geolocated information; and emergency preparedness tips.

DISASTER ASSISTANCE AND ASSESSMENT DASHBOARD — Appallicious launched a new disaster dashboard that aims to make rebounding after devastation more manageable. Get an in-depth look at the Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard.

GEOQ — The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency announced its crowdsourcing tool, GeoQ, which allows users to upload geo-tagged photos of an area impacted by an emergency. Raymond Bauer, the agency’s technology lead, said the tool is available for anyone to participate or work with the code via open source.

NOW TRENDING ON TWITTER — Helping emergency managers and public health officials, a new website,, searches Twitter data for health and natural disaster topics and analyzes that data. Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health IT, said the tool scours social media and looks for topics that could turn into public health emergencies.

DISASTER DATA — Coming soon, the new site aims to become a resource for preparedness and can also be used during and after an emergency. More than 100 tools from the public and private sectors have been submitted for inclusion on the site, and it will also host disaster-related data sets.

Additional announcements made at the event, via information from the White House, include:

The DHS and the Zoonotic and Animal Disease Defense Center of Excellence are piloting the AgCONNECT suite of pluggable mobile and Web-based desktop applications in 15 states and more than 60 laboratories.

Getaround is launching a disaster assistance policy and Web portal to help educate people about how to find or share a vehicle following a disaster.

Microsoft is adding the Yammer survivor network to its disaster-response program's portfolio of solutions for use in the wake of a disaster.

NPR Labs developed an emergency alerting system that could provide timely emergency information to the 36 million Americans who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, using a battery-operated radio and Android tablet.

SeeClickFix is sharing its database of citizen requests to help generate actionable data regarding the current state of infrastructure during and immediately after a disaster.

TaskRabbit announced a new mobile Web interface, the TaskRabbit Needs for First Responders, which provides a marketplace to connect local service providers with those who need assistance.

Twilio is open-sourcing a framework for developers to stand up effective communications solutions during emergency response.

The Weather Co. is building a localized alerting platform that will enable state, local and private authorities to manage and distribute alerts.

This story was originally published by Emergency Management