Recap of the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day

By Siobhan Champ-Blackwell, MSLIS, National Library of Medicine, Specialized Information Services Division, Disaster Information Management Research Center

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Tuesday, July 29th, I was lucky to attend the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day. I never tire of having the opportunity to meet with people who are working directly in the field of emergency preparedness and response. The day was organized to highlight some of the ways technology can empower survivors; first responders; and local, state, tribal, territorial, and federal governments with critical information and resources. There was a lot of information presented at this event, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to listen to so many talented and creative individuals share their ideas on disaster preparedness and response. I learned about several resources from government agencies and the private sector at the event. Some of these resources are currently available while others are under development.

Survivor Support/Sharing Economy

Microsoft provided Boston Public Health Service free access to YAMMER to set up a private social media networking service for survivors and families of victims of the Boston Marathon. A speaker at the event told how he and others have located doctors using that forum, found support with each other, and in general made use of the tool to improve their lives. Microsoft will continue to provide YAMMER at no cost to emergency managers during similar events.

Task Rabbit is a tool that connects people to commercial assistants (taskers) like handymen, gardeners, and movers. Taskers are put through a vetting process before being added to Task Rabbit. During a disaster, Task Rabbit will set up a section on their website to be used for people in the disaster area to find things like shovels backhoes, etc. at low or no cost.

GetAround allows people to locate and rent cars in their neighborhood. During disasters, GetAround will send messages to local customers to ask them to share their vehicles, and will waive the GetAround commission. This can be especially useful when looking for large trucks, or fleets of vehicles needed to move large groups of people.

Airbnb announced memorandums of understanding with emergency management officials in Portland and San Francisco to address housing needs for displaced persons and disaster services workers during an emergency.


The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has placed code on GitHub called GeoQ that emergency managers can use to build customized maps of a disaster area, and allow citizens to upload photos of damaged areas in the community. In this way, the people experiencing the issues are directly alerting their local government to problems that require attention.

The U.S. Department of Energy introduced the Lantern Live app. This downloadable mobile application is still in testing. Once it is live it will allow the public to share information related to natural disasters and utility availability. If you have a .gov email you can ask to join the expanded beta testing. Email

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency introduced the Incident Waste Decision Support Tool (I-Waste) which helps communities manage waste resulting from disasters. View a video explaining the tool

From the private sector, SeeClickFix demoed their app that allows the public to report infrastructure problems, such as potholes, to their local government agencies. Now any Emergency Manager can request access to SeeClickFix to set it up for a specific disaster event.

Open Data

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spoke about several current projects. The website was described as “home to the U.S. Government’s open data.” DHS is working on creating a website specific to open data for disasters ( DHS also spoke about the Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS) initiative, an online mapping tool that improves situational awareness for first responders and AgCONNECT, a group of tools that analyze data to enhance situational awareness surrounding outbreaks of infectious animal diseases.

Personnel from the U.S. Agency for International Development spoke on several open data resources that for disaster response. Open Street Map allows those with local knowledge to build maps which are posted for anyone to use. Mapgive teaches people why crisis mapping is important and how they can get involved. Written and video instructions are available. The United Nation’s Humanitarian Data Exchange is a repository where data providers can upload raw data for use by others. It also includes a database of analytics and visualization tools.

The Google Crisis Response Team has been active since Katrina in 2005. They provide access to data and tools for first responders to make use of in order for them to reach the public efficiently and speedily.

Appallicious launched Disaster Assistance Data Dashboard. Through this dashboard, emergency managers and others can list resources/personnel available or needed during a disaster. allows users to add contact information for individuals, set up groups of contacts, and provides the ability to call in volunteers with just one click. Preparing and responding to a disaster is made simpler with the ability to use one tool to send out a blanket phone or text message.

Alerting the Public

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) representative Dr. Karen DeSalvo spoke on several current HHS projects. Now Trending is a web-based application which tracks more than 200 health terms on Twitter and displays the data in a variety of manners, including by geography and time-frame. Resilient Cities is an initiative from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response that works to ensure that communities reach and maintain health resilience in the face of disasters through a number of projects. MedMap incorporates data from many sources to enhance situational awareness, management of resources, etc. Currently under development, the At-Risk Resiliency Interactive Map, will be an open data interactive map for citizens requiring durable medical equipment. This map will allow individuals to enter their personal information about reliance on electricity, oxygen, etc., so that first responders will be aware of their needs.

National Public Radio’s Nipper One provides an emergency alerting system for deaf and hearing-impaired individuals that makes use of a telecommunications device that translates messages into onscreen text and flashes alert lights.

SF72, a hub for local community preparedness, was developed in San Francisco as a way to improve citizen involvement in personal preparedness. After the success of SF72, a toolkit was developed to allow other cities to copy this model. Johnson County, KS is currently using the toolkit to develop JOCO72.

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