Monday, September 16, 2013

Coordinating Cleanup 1.0

Crisis Cleanup has a great logo
Nonprofits setting up operations in Colorado are abuzz with talk of Crisis Cleanup, the brain child of Aaron Titus, a guy who said "there's got to be a better way to organize some of the chaos of early recovery cleanup" (I made that quote up) and created a tool that's doing just that. He created a tool that works to advance how nonprofit organizations engage in cleanup activities following a disaster.

The cliff's notes version is that Crisis Cleanup is a google map populated with cleanup needs represented by pins dropped on the location of said need. Registered organizations can claim pins so that other responding groups don't accidentally send teams to a home that has already received help. There is a reporting aspect that accompanies this so that hours can be tracked and volunteer numbers logged, an innovative solution that helps manage the nonprofit aspect of early recovery cleanup following disasters.

I had an opportunity to be a user of the system after Hurricane Sandy as part of its beta testing during response and saw the potential. Since then the system has been implemented several times with what I hope are fixes and advances making it easier to use and more comprehensive from a data capture perspective.

Screen shot of the user interface -- Superstorm Sandy
With the system being used in Colorado to coordinate nonprofit cleanup activities, I'm interested in hearing from anyone who uses it to manage their infield work flow to get your thoughts on the system within the context of cleanup coordination.

And while I'm optimistic about how Crisis Cleanup can work to provide the autonomy nonprofits seek while working within a defined system, I feel that it's important to remember the need to be inclusive.

Spontaneous response in disaster and the substantial impact it has during early recovery activities is no longer an ignorable trend. Social media is being used to organize armies of volunteers to aid in response and recovery, and it's happening as I write this in Colorado. As a community of practice we must strive to include as many of these emergent groups as possible in response coordination. Not only is it key in working towards enacting the "all of nation" or "whole of community" approach to preparedness and response as outlined by Presidential Policy Directive 8, but its important for unity of effort to provide better coordinated service delivery to those affected.

As it stands the crisis cleanup tool is largely for vetted organizations, those with a response history or those who are "known" entities. And while I understand why the system is setup this way, to help ensure consistency in the work done on behalf of homeowners, I feel that there is a solution that can set an expectation as to the level of work needing to be done, while encouraging broader inclusion of locally responding groups.

All Disasters Are Local, a tired expression but one that holds truth; and while Crisis Cleanup has taken a monumental step in unifying early recovery cleanup from a nonprofit perspective, I believe that there is work to be done to ensure access to this tool makes its way down to the emergent groups on a local level. For it's those groups that have the biggest stake in ensuring that their communities make a full recovery and as such rightfully deserve to be included within the broader coordinated effort.

A tip of my cap to you Mr. Titus, I look forward to seeing how we can evolve the model moving forward.


  1. It's good to see early recovery coordination taking a step forward in the US. I like the self-coordination approach. Internationally, UNDP is starting to re-engage as early recovery global cluster lead, especially in the EU, but they haven't invested much in the sector recently. I'm hoping BCPR is watching tools like these and pursuing ways to adapt them.

    As far as making this more inclusive, liability in the US is a big obstacle. No one wants to be sued when a drunk guy with a chainsaw shows up at a site he found through the tool. In the context of developing countries, I'm unsure how the vetting process would work without a VOAD counterpart (or if it's needed at all).

    1. Hi Chris! Your post surprised me. It'd be great to see UNDP engage more again - as they should under the transformative agenda. However I'm not aware of any Cluster deployments in Europe.

    2. I don't have any firsthand knowledge that UNDP is refocusing on early recovery, but the signs are good. The CWGER is organizing a residential training workshop for Early Recovery Advisors in November.
      UNDP is also hiring cluster coordinators and early recovery advisors for the ExpRes roster.
      I thought I remembered seeing something about the EU being involved with these, but I could be mistaken.

  2. I agree with Chris on the liability consideration. VOADs should absolutely be involved. I was introduced to the tool in Sandy and brought back information to Texas. It meets needs in a way that nothing else has. Now if we could just do something about those in-kind donations.

  3. Inclusion shouldn't begin during response / recovery, especially given the focus in the US on whole of community response. In my opinion this means getting proactive by providing training opportunities for individuals and community-based organizations on the tools available well in advance of having to use them. While this won't address the issue of integrating emergent groups into a broader coordinated effort, I believe it will work to create a better informed public on the mechanics of early recovery which will hopefully lead to a more cohesive local response effort post disaster.

    Chris, are you aware of any tools that the BCPR has used in the past? It would be interesting to see what, if any, similarities exist. Thanks for the comment.

    1. I'm not aware of any. Considering the very limited resources BCPR has been committing to the early recovery sector, I'd be surprised if technology development got past the wish list stage. I'm hoping it reemerges as a priority, but early recovery will always lag behind as the least sexy segment of the disaster lifecycle for donors.

  4. Jeremy-- I just came across your write-up on Crisis Cleanup. It's still a labor of love for me, Andy Gimma and Chris Wood. Your article brought up a couple of issues we've addressed. First, inclusiveness. Crisis Cleanup has a bias for inclusion—that is, any organization that meets all of these requirements should be allowed to participate, absent some extenuating or unforeseen circumstance: 1. Have a physical presence in the area ("boots on the ground"), 2. Interact directly with survivors. 3. Perform property assessments or remediation (assessments, debris removal, muck-outs, rebuilding, etc.) and 4. Be a reputable organization (Incorporation is not always necessary, but individuals may not join independently).

    The most common, and preferred method of establishing reputability is to be a member of National VOAD, a state VOAD, or local COAD, or obtain a recommendation from a VOAD member or government agency. Organizations without VOAD links that can demonstrate a track record of post-disaster property remediation are also considered reputable. In some instances, upstart or grassroots organizations provide substantial assistance to disaster survivors, and cannot always establish working relationships with VOAD members in the "heat of battle." In those rare circumstances where a recommendation is not possible, grassroots organizations may establish reputability by demonstrating that they do quality work, typically through interviews with people they have assisted. Recommendations are always preferred. (see

    Recent New Features:
    * Reuse Login: Effective immediately, you can reuse your existing account and password for new incidents.
    * Incident Statistics: Just click "Stats" to see high-level work order and participation statistics.
    * Better CSV Download Speeds: Now it takes seconds instead of minutes.
    * Bug Fixes, Server & Security Upgrades
    * Administrative Interface: Extensive upgrades to the administrative interface that will allow us to delegate most of the administration to local administrators in the future.
    * Help Desk: we launched an official help desk site through Zendesk. The site has an FAQ section filled with questions actually asked by real users, as well as policies and other instructions.
    * Support Phone Number
    * Drag and Drop to New Location: Google Maps is pretty good at locating addresses. But sometimes Google is off by as much as a quarter-mile, especially in rural areas. Now you can pick up an icon and drag it to its proper location when entering it for the first time, or editing a work order.

    Another good link: Is Crisis Cleanup a Good Fit?

    As you can tell, we care deeply about this open source project, and we'll continue to improve as much as we can, for as long as we have funding.

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