Sunday, September 4, 2011

Technology-Based Irene Relief: Thanks VTResponse, Google, and Ushahidi

One of the small bright spots of Irene hitting Vermont have been the innovative ways people have found to use technology to help out.

The group that is getting the most attention, and rightfully so, is VTResponse.  This group, created by UVM student Sarah Waterman, has been helping connect volunteers with people who need help since shortly after the storm left.  This group was the inspiration for us going to help in Brandon twice, and has brought help to a lot of people.  There is also an unrelated website devoted to collecting donations for small businesses called VTIreneFund.  I hope we see more things like this in the future, too.

I have a soft spot for  Google because I love the Google Maps and Google Earth products, which I use to make watershed maps like these.  Google has helped out by creating this interactive map of road closures and other problems.  It has been incredibly helpful.  It isn't perfect, as there has been some incorrect or outdated information, but this seems to be due to the difficulty of keeping up with Irene news, and a feature of the information source itself, not of Google.  There is also crowd-sourced information (see below).  In any event, I just think it is really neat that Google, a huge corporation with no offices in Vermont, has gone out of their way to help out like this.

Ushahidi is an app that allows for crowdsourced collection of info, especially during and after disasters.  This app and associated website is the source for some of the info found on the Google Vermont Irene map.  There is also an effort to map where flooding happened.  I tried out Ushahidi on my iPhone last winter and it didn't seem to work well, so I deleted it and forgot about it.  Now, it seems like the bugs have been worked out and the program is seeing more extensive use, so I'm going to give it a try again.

There have been a lot of groups using technology to help out, so if I missed you, don't feel bad, but leave a comment here instead.

On a less rosy note, Vermont residents should be aware that a storm containing moisture from Tropical Storm Lee will move through the state later today and Monday.  There could be some flash flooding, especially in areas of unstable, eroded ground left over from Irene.  Be very aware when using newly-repaired 'stopgap' roadways as these may be more vulnerable to washing out again.  Keep an eye on the weather, evacuate if you see flooding that threatens your home, and just generally be safe!  Hopefully this moves through fast and cleanup can continue.

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