It seems hackers are making the news once again as a force for good. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which has caused untold devastation along the Eastern Seaboard, hackers across the world are taking part in a series of events that are designed to help local communities prepare and cope with the devastation of this crisis. In what promises to be an ongoing series of information and development camps, the first “Sandy CrisisCamp” took place in Boston, the West Coast, and even as far away as New Zealand.
The goal here is simple: to design internet tools and applications that will assist in disaster preparedness and recovery, both now and in the future. The first step in that, which was covered this past weekend, was the work on various “crowdsourcing” tools that will allow people to categorize images for building damage and a simple Google doc that attempts to keep track of all the sources of Sandy recovery data in a single place. These will not only give people the ability to access vital information and updates on the path of hurricanes quickly, but will also help organizations such as FEMA prioritize their efforts based on up-to-the-minute damage assessments.
These efforts are all related to the work of a group known as the Hurricane Hackers, students at MIT’s Media Lab who have been helping coordinate relief efforts via Twitter. The fruits of their initial labor was the site known as Sandyslist, a simple hub for linking people with the resources they need to stay safe and ride the storm out. And in truth, they are but one group of people who have been using social utilities and the internet in order to provide info for those in need and to help others coordinate their efforts. There are even online sites where people are able to pledge donations, a process known as crowdfunding, and which are currently waiving their fees in order to ensure that more money is raised.
In addition to being reassuring and heartwarming, all of these coordinated efforts are also a good demonstration of what is possible in the information age. After all, in times of crisis, the most important tool in prevention and response is information. By ensuring that it is coordinated, easily accessible, and available all in one place, the hackers responsible for this are also helping to ensure that lives are saved and the crisis passes with far less in the way of human devastation.