The value of the hacker community: reacting to natural disasters

I used to live on the edge of the Somerset levels and as boy cycle throughout them…
I am including in full a post from an OKFN list [after these paragraphs] , inviting people to hack today (Sunday) in Shoreditch London and virtually to help mitigate the effects of the worst UK floods in living memory. Read it. The message is simple:
  • YOU can make a difference.

People often think that they can’t hack – that you have to speak Perl and Unix and node.js and…

That’s wrong. Hacking is about communities making a difference. We all understand communities, so we can all be hackers. The mayor of Palo Alto ran a city-wide “hack the city”

  • EVERYONE is welcome at a hack day.

You don’t even have to have a computer. Just an ability to communicate.

I can’t be there (I am in AU).  AU also gets floods (and bush fires). Last time I was here the Melbourne Age newspaper held a hack day in its offices – one of the topics we hacked was bush fires. There were lots of non-geeks there.

What you will find in Shoreditch today is a random selection of people – could be 5, could be 500. The thing in common is that they want to help. They know that no single person has the answer. That they don’t, at present, even know where to start.

That’s where you could well be able to help. Perhaps you are in local government or the voluntary sector? Or, maybe you’ve actually been in a flood or have detailed experience from someone who has. That’s a great starting point to find out what people actually want rather that what we think they want.  That’s why I was so impressed with the NHS Hackdays – people identified useful tasks that were achievable and then achieved them. Maybe you’re a teacher, or maybe you are still at school. Yes, school children can change the world.

And, of course, we are unlikely to solve everything this Sunday… Much of the success will be taking good starting points and building the communities and protocols that will make them sustainable. When the 2010 earthquake hit Haiti the Openstreetmap community – hundreds of thousands – leapt into action to use satellite photos to recreate pre-earthquake roads and buildings. Read http://hot.openstreetmap.org/projects/haiti-2.

Maybe you’re a keen photographer and went on holiday in Somerset. Perhaps your photos could be useful – I don’t know. Or maybe you know about low-cost boats. Or fly drones as a hobby. Who knows? A feature of hacks is that we pool ideas at the start and see which catch people’s imagination and which are feasible. It doesn’t matter if *your* ideas doesn’t work out, simply that good ideas get developed. Glory is communal not personal.

Perhaps you can find information on key resources that might be available but unused.

I may be able to log in from AU. What can I do?

  • give moral support.
  • spread the word
  • cross fertilise
If only one person reads this post and does something that’s massively worthwhile. Now the details
====================================
From: Joshua March <josh@conversocial.com>
Subject: Your country needs you: #FloodHack this Sunday!
Date: 14 February 2014 20:54:24 GMT

Hi guys,

The government called a meeting today with a number of major UK tech companies to discuss what the tech and developer community could do to help with the flood crisis engulfing the UK.
As part of this, the Environment Agency agreed to open up real-time data on flood levels/status, mapped across the UK, so that developers can utilize the data for free (at least for the next three months).
We’re organizing a hackathon THIS SUNDAY in Shoreditch, London, to build apps on top of the data to try and help people keep up to date with the issues in their area (or areas they’re traveling to), and get the data they need on how they can get help, how they can volunteer etc.
There are more details below, and on the hackpad page: https://hackpad.com/UK-Flood-Help-February-2014-QFpKPE5Wy6s
This is obviously super short notice, but an amazing opp to build something that could actually help thousands of people. Google have agreed to host it, and will be sending developers, as will Facebook, Microsoft and many other start-ups in the area (including my own).
Please spread the word, and come down if you can make it!
Calling all developers!
We have been hit by the worst flooding and weather the UK has seen in our lifetimes. Getting the right information to people about the problems affecting particular areas, and the right places to turn to help (or for information on how THEY can help volunteer) is crucial. The government has near real-time data on flooding levels and alerts, mapped out across the entire country, which they want to put to the best possible use. Following a meeting called today at Number 10 with leading technology companies, the Environment Agency, the Government Digital Service, the Open Data Institute and the Cabinet Office are working to open up this data to the public for the next three months, allowing developers to build innovative applications that can help those affected by the flooding.
This Sunday at 10am, join developers from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Conversocial, Datasift, Mother, Taskhub and more for a hackathon, hosted by Tech CityUK at Google Campus in Shoreditch, where the Open Data Institute will share the flood level data with developers and be on hand to help throughout the day. The Cabinet Office will be choosing the most useful applications demoed on the day to be promoted to flood victims across the country.
Please register for the hackathon here.
Your country needs you!