Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hacking our way towards Resilience

The concepts of preparedness and whole of community are being pushed to the forefront of the conversation when talking about creating community resilience; transforming them from abstract ideas and words used in grant proposals, to tangible ideas and actions.

Civic engagement and the growing base of concerned and motivated individuals rallying around the idea that they can create a tangible impact on their community through technological ideation is spurring a wave of innovation. It's casting a broad net that is reaching a new breed of disaster practitioner--the technologist. An example of this transition can be seen in the integration of technology in civic activism through groups like Code for America and events like the national day of civic hacking. These forms of civic engagement have also worked to influence disaster response and recovery. (Hackathon for Disaster Response 2.0)

The recent surge in civic engagement has predominately come in the form of Hackathons; a hackathon being an "event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designersinterface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects" ( The focus or theme around these events is to address a community-based issue and they are drawing bright, young innovators to the table and are producing some surprising ideas and apps centered around the idea of Peer-to-Peer disaster recovery / survivor-centric response. 

With the recognition that technology and mobile platforms are rapidly changing how the business of disaster response and recovery is conducted, the focus of some of these coding marathons is to address the challenges communities face as they work through the turbulence of community-wide recovery. The resources are out there as well as a loose infrastructure needed to galvanize a community around the cause of streamlined/expedited disaster response and recovery...all that remains is the will to push it forward and make it a reality.

Given the popularity and explosive growth civic hacking has experienced, I believe there is  an opportunity for National VOAD and FEMA's Innovation advisory team to sponsor a disaster hackathon of their own. Organizing and leveraging the ideas and spirit of civic engagement to address the common challenges of community-wide response and recovery, is a way to create resilience and engage a constituency that has the 'local touch' and can provide the context needed to make the apps relevant with the backing of national coalitions and entities that can push for widespread adoption.


  1. Several organizations have been running hackathons for disaster response and other humanitarian needs for some years now, so starting up new organizations may not be necessary, and may divide effort. These organizations are known to FEMA.

    Random Hacks of Kindness,
    Non-profits and government agencies with needs pose problems to be solved by RHoK hackers. RHoK typically runs two worldwide events per year, and is making an effort to have ongoing events. The recent National Day of Civic Hacking,, was coordinated with RHoK Global -- many sites in the US were particiapting in both events.

    CrisisCommons, which runs Crisis Camps,
    Crisis Camps are generally run at the time of need, to assist organizations that need technical work.

    Geeks Without Bounds,
    Assists in organizing hackathons, acts as an incubator for projects arising from hackathons to bring them to completion.

  2. Hi Pat, thanks for the comment...the more I look into hackathons, the more I'm finding a developed community of concerned people with events happening regularly...which is very encouraging.

    In my post I wasn't advocating for the creation of a new group / organization, but for National VOAD ( to tap into this existing community of hacktivists to aid in the development of systems and applications that would help unify the current response landscape, not divide it. Are you aware of any groups that have a disaster-specific focus?

  3. Standby Task Force
    Crisis Commons
    Crisis Mappers

    You will find a lengthy experience base involved with each group and some very interesting history.
    There are also a number of international groups who do not specifically perform crisis oriented tasks like wikimapia, but there is a movement afoot to make that a side channel of focused activity.

  4. I have not heard of the 'Standby Task Force' and will be sure to look into them. I am also beginning to get involved with the Open Humanitarian Initiative and believe they are tackling some important issues as it relates to data and disasters...I would suggest checking them out if you haven't already.

    Thanks for the comment, I hope you're enjoying the content.