Crowdsourcing Hurricane Preparation

Being a new(ish) resident of South Florida, hurricanes are still a new to me. Growing up in the midwest we had tornadoes, but it isn’t much you can do to prepare for a tornado besides getting downstairs. Last year, during Hurricane Matthew, was my first experience of a possible hurricane. I purchased water and food in advance. When the storm got closer purchased additional supplies. I was able to buy water and gas without any major delays. People didn’t seem to be nervous about the storm until 5 days until landfall. Then you started seeing long lines at gas stations and places being sold out of food and water. My sister and I left to Atlanta for Matthew.

Preparation For Irma

During the preparation of Hurricane Irma there was a different energy there was a rush to find resources like water and gas. Stores like Target and other grocery stores were sold out of supplies 10 days before the storm, and lines for gas happened shortly after. People were treating this storm differently. Irma was projected to be a category 5 storm just like Matthew but seeing the images from Houston after Hurricane Harvey people took extra precautions.  I was able to get food and gas, but I wasn’t able to find any water. I tried going to stores early in the morning or visiting less popular locations, but I couldn’t find any water.

Line of cars trying to get gas before hurricane.
Questions people have before a hurricane

At the time I thought about creating a website that let people share where resources similar to, but for resources. There was a lot of work to do to get my house ready for the storm, and I was still fixing bugs for Pickk NFL Play by Play Question Automation finished before the 2017 NFL Season.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma came through the Caribbean and shifted westward towards the Gulf Coast, so the east side of Florida was not hit directly. I stayed with a family friend and we were fortunate to keep power the entire time. Even without a direct hit, there was still a lot of damage, and a lot of questions: “Like does that Publix have power?” or “Where can I find tarps?”.

I didn’t have a lot of time to reflect on the storm, because of the clean up around the city and getting back to work on my startup. So, I put aside my idea for a website for finding resources.

Hack Night

Last weekend I participated in General Provision’s Hack Night. It was originally scheduled for September 23rd for the National Day of Civic Hacking but was postponed because of Hurricane Irma. With this interruption, the organizers used this major event to focus the theme of the hackathon on hurricanes.

After Irma and seeing the devastation in Puerto Rico. I thought it would be great to build something that can help crowdsource the resources available at a single location.


What if we could crowdsource a number of resources a specific location has? People who are at a single location can let others know “this Publix has a lot of water” or “this Home Depot is out of plywood”. We can capture those responses and show on a map where resources are available. When users are submitting information about resources we can also capture attributes about a single location. (“This store doesn’t have electricity” or “There are 37 empty spaces at this shelter” ) Finally, we can use the system to request resources. That way if all the stores are out of stock a person can request a resource and be alerted when it becomes available in a 10-mile radius.

Crowd provides update for resources during hurricane preparation
Visual representation of the system.

Since this was a 24-hour event, it was important to focus on what could be accomplished. Using the data from Foursquare API we could get a location’s address, hours, and category type. That way we could focus on capturing and displaying responses. We would use FireBase database for storing the response information. If there was time we could build a Twilio system to let people text their Zip Code and resource keyword to find nearby locations. This could work for low data or non-smartphone users.

Building OurSight

Screenshot of the website
Update Single Location Resources

Working with two backend developers and a front-end developer we were able to develop a Minimum Viable Product during the hackathon. Users can filter locations that might have a resource like water based on the location’s category type. They can update if that location does or does not have water and how much is in stock. The information is captured and time stamped then filterable for other users.  Users can also update the attributes of a location like “Status of this location” or “Does this location have backup generators?”. Finally, an initial Twilio code was written to send text messages back to users.

There are a lot of practical applications for this technology:

  1. It helps people find the resources near them.
    • Where can I find water?
    • Does anywhere have plywood?
    • Where can I find tarps?
  2. Let’s city officials / electric companies know where the problems are.
    • Single houses could be updated with different attributes.
    • This system is not to replace 911, but locations can have attributes like “damaged” or “needs assistance”
    • Electricity could be “working” in an area, but users could still be having issues.
  3. Allows others outside the direct area see what is happening.
    • Nursing homes could update their status or share if they have power/back up energy.
    • Map of the damage

Next Steps

This project is Open Source on Github and can be used for before or after any type of disaster. The hope is to be able to share information about resources and location status with each other using technology.

Contribute to the project