#OccupySandy, technology, and relief

Pin It
Julio lost his home, and church but not his community.
Julio lost his home, and church but not his community.

Nearly a month ago “Super Storm Sandy” ravaged communities from Cuba to Long Island. The aftermath has seen communities leading the relief and rebuilding effort. One group is said to stand out, a surprise according to the media, #OccupySandy.

While it may seem like #OCCUPYWALLSTREET has “changed,” it hasn’t. Anyone who was present at Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park) last year knows that OWS has always been a network with mutual aid at it’s core. Just beyond the characters surrounding the park was a show room floor of how a better world might work. Food for anyone who is hungry, clothing for anyone who is cold, and community open to all.

#OccupySandy is simply the realization of a major aspect of #OCCUPYWALLSTREET, mutual aid.

Some are asking how did a group with no disaster relief experience out perform the Red Cross, NYC disaster response, and FEMA? But this is a much more complex question. Community groups can’t repair subways or bridges while the establishment clearly cannot provide comfort and aid to the people who most need it. The community is like water filling in the cracks in between these massive bureaucracies.

Our response was swift and powerful because we had a strong infrastructure in place. Both human and technological, this post will focus on the latter.

#OccupySandy

The basic structure of #OccupySandy consists of distributions centrals that take donations and volunteers then send them out to front line locations in affected areas. Here are some Occupy and non-occupy projects currently in use or development.

InterOccupy.net

The InterOccupy team spans the globe and closely collaborates with Occupy Tech Ops and Occupy.net. Their system is based on HUBs, each HUB relates to a project within Occupy. As the hurricane made it’s way up the east coast an InterOccupy HUB was created: interoccupy.net/occupysandy. This provided a platform to organize local Occupy networks together. Currently the HUB acts as a central clearing house of information. Erica Heinz, member of Tech Ops, details the five day redesign of the Occupy Sandy HUB.

Fusion Table

InterOccupy is also managing a Google Fusion table that provides a way to track changes of locations and place them on a map. This map pushes data to Google’s Crisis map.

Volunteer Intake with CiviCRM

InterOccupy (IO) also manages nearly all volunteer intake. Using the OWS CiviCRM IO can create forms and lists of volunteers. Special lists are being put together for rebuilding efforts along with other needs. Mass e-mails are sent to volunteers or segments of that list. This service is provided by MayFirst/People Link

“Social Media”

I’ve come to loathe the term social media. It’s a silly way of saying “the internet”. Though it is good short hand for when you want to say Twitter and Facebook but don’t want to spell them both out.

Facebook

There is currently a sophisticated operation going on via Facebook. A Facebook group and accompanying chat is used to manage the administration of Occupy Sandy’s Facebook page. With a mix of information and opinion the Facebook page keeps people up-to-date on the dire situation our neighbors are still in while also fielding questions and sharing stories of hope.

Twitter

Like facebook the main Occupy Sandy twitter account (among many) @occupysandy also spreads the news and answers questions. The account is also used to promote very important information to a feed on the InterOccupy Hub. This allows coordinators to tweet to @occupysandy who can then re-tweet that message on to the home page.

Mobile Applications

When power goes out, so too do cell towers. Connectivity is very difficult in disaster areas which makes technology less effective. Here are some apps that use SMS and mobile networking to provide information and relief.

OccupySMS

OccupySMS uses peer to peer matching to connect needs with relief. Using simple SMS gateway provided by Mobile Commons NYC area users can text SANDY to 69866 to post personal needs while people seeking to help can text MUTUAL AID to 69866 and be connected with someone directly. This system allows needs and offers to be crowd managed with little admin overhead.

Contact OccupySMS: occupysms@gmail.com

Mobile Disaster Relief App

Said to be created in just five days the Mobile Disaster Relief App provides a powerful iOS (Android coming soon) app to record pictures and audio for first responders and canvassers. It has mapping and peer to peer need/fulfillment. I haven’t personally been able to use this application.

iPhone download

Maps Maps Maps!

At a recent hack-a-thon put on by #HurricaneHackers there was a general sentiment that we sure have made a lot of maps but aren’t connecting the data dots. Most of these tools and ventures aren’t talking to each other, more on that later. Here are some notable maps:

Google Crisis Map

Many of the maps are ending up here. From InterOccupy’s map of relief locations, to Senior Services map, and a Gas map. Here is a great example of centralizing data into a highly useful map.

SparkRelief

Another powerful map that covers many relief topics. SparkRelief.org provides a great user interface and allows for clear and simple peer to peer relief.

Other maps:

The Human Story

When far removed from a disaster it can be easy to lose touch. When we deal with data, points on a map, we can forget that those points of data are all embedded with a human story. The story of tremendous loss, courage, and solidarity.

The People Who Were Killed By Hurricane Sandy

Artur Kasprzak, 28, NYPD officer, drowned after saving his family, South Beach. Lester Kaplan, 73, lawyer, hypothermia, Brigantine, N.J. Edith Wright, 52, teacher’s aide, swept out to sea, Montauk. Read more about this.

Kimberly Smrkovsky, 25
Michael Robson, 13
Herminia St. John, 75
Jessie Streich-Kest, 24 and Jacob Vogelman, 24

Story Line

StoryLine is a collaborative documentary for us to share experiences of Hurricane Sandy and relief efforts. Using any phone or mobile device, you can create a story by calling or sending a text or picture message. StoryLine is a project of HousingisaHumanRight.orgInteroccupy.net and the MIT Center for Civic Media (civic.mit.edu)

CowBird - There are some stories on CowBird too.

Getting things done

Sandy has proven that given access to the right tool people can extremely effective.  There have been a number of tools used and developed around Sandy.  Within #OccupySandy Google’s integrated apps have been put to heavy use. In the first few days Gmail addresses were set up, Google Docs shared, Google Voice, and Google Groups.

While I’d rather see stronger use of Free & Open solutions, Google products do perform quite well and illustrates how strongly integrated tools can increase effectiveness. Being able to share and collaborate on a spreadsheet between two locations is very remarkable.

When we look at the problem that people had to solve after Sandy it’s fairly simple: report needs, fulfill needs, and let others know a need has been fulfilled.

One of the now many spreadsheets used within “the” Occupy Sandy shared Google Drive folder is an unassuming document named OS Requests. This document currently tracks all the requests and dispatches to and from locations on Long Island to Staten Island. It is used between both of Occupy Sandy’s main distribution hubs 520 Clinton and Jacobi Church.

I was asked to come into Occupy Sandy to make a task management system. It became clear that something much more powerful was needed. As it turns out around that same time Mark Prutsalis (@Globaliist) was doing the same thing. Mark is the CEO of Sahana Software Foundation.

Sahana

Sahana is a disaster relief software that came out of the 2005 Earthquake and Tsunami in Sri Lanka.

Mark and developers Fran (@franboon) are currently working on site to get Sahana configured for Occupy Sandy. Mark wrote a blog post about setting up a kitchen in Bay Ridge where most of Occupy Sandy’s food prep is moving to.

Sahana looks very promising and I will surely write more about it soon. It is currently being adopted by the Occupy Sandy team both here in New York and in New Jersey. Adoption is tough in a decentralized network like Occupy Sandy. Sahana is mostly in use at the higher level dispatch locations rather than “front line” locations.

Each location, from Staten Island to Red Hook to the many locations in the Rockaway are finding their own tech solutions. As we expand Sahana’s use will work to integrate into existing systems rather than trying to replace them.

I was also able to catch a bit of a lesson on a FEMA system being put in place for VOADs or Voluntary Organizations Active in a Disaster. I will share more on that soon as well.

Get Involved

If you are interested in working on these technologies I highly suggest attending the #NYTechResponds Sandy Benefit Weekend: Hackathon & Relief Agency Conference. December 1st and 2nd.

If you would like to get directly involved with Occupy Sandy Tech work please contact me at drew@nycga.net

3 comments

  1. Charles Lenchner

    This is fantastic and I’m sharing.
    On the list today, I saw that Robert is plugging in the VAN. This is great too – and further evidence that the ‘right’ mix of software tools will always be a healthy mix of easy, hard, open, FLO, and closed systems depending on what is most appropriate under the circumstances.