Taking Action for Disaster Preparedness: Technology and Innovation in Support of America’s PrepareAthon!

As this week’s earthquake in Nepal reminds us, disasters can drastically impact our communities without warning. To help address the challenges from severe weather and other disasters, the White House encouraged entrepreneurs, makers, technologists, and creative #DisasterTech innovators to get involved, unleash innovation, and share how they are using technology and new approaches to strengthen preparedness.

Today, in line with the Administration’s goal of better preparing and supporting survivors and communities following a disaster, public and private entities are releasing a host of new tools, services, and initiatives as part of America’s PrepareAthon! and the National Day of Action.

Highlights from Federal departments and agencies being announced today include:

  • DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) to provide interactive disaster resilience exhibits at the first-ever National Maker Faire this June. The exhibits will focus on technologies designed for survivors and the first responder community, such as a Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) prototype, Improved Structure Firefighting Gloves, a Smart Electrochlorinator, and the X-Ray Scanning Rover.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) launches a new feature to its free iOS and Android app to provide National Weather Service alerts for up to five locations across the nation. The new feature added this month allows users to receive alerts on severe weather happening anywhere they select in the country, even if the phone is not located in the area, making it easier to follow severe weather that may be threatening family and friends.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) announces the new GeoHEALTH platform. GeoHEALTH features interactive mapping to support government agencies at all levels and community organizations in preparing for the health impacts of emergencies. The system pulls information from numerous sources including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and generalized data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Additional information can be found at https://GeoHealth.hhs.gov.
  • The National Library of Medicine (NLM) Disaster Information Management Research Center (DIMRC) launches new email service to provide disaster health updates. The new email service released this month allows subscriptions to Disaster Lit, NLM’s Twitter feed, and resources including the Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders and Chemical Emergency Medical Management Disaster Lit provides access to over 8,000 disaster medicine and public health resources and was recently redesigned to allow for viewing on mobile devices. In response to the Ebola outbreak, Disaster Lit added over 750 items, including 350 guidelines and assessment tools.
  • Peace Corps responds to Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu with open data mapping event. On March 23, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) and the Peace Corps’ Office of Innovation hosted a two-hour mapping event, with 47 participants mapping the nations of Tuvalu and Kiribati and making contributions to a digital map of Vanuatu. RPCVs who served in Vanuatu shared their experiences and post-disaster updates, joining current Vanuatu volunteers and trainees via Google Hangout to help identify potential shelters and communication towers.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. Department of State are collaborating with partner organizations to build tools and platforms for creating and sharing Open Data. The U.S. Department of State reports that after the launch of MapGive, the largest and most complex mapping activation to date began in response to the Ebola outbreak. MapGive provided web based imagery services to support mapping in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and hosted two map-a-thons with the American Red Cross to mobilize hundreds of volunteers.  To date, over 3,000 volunteers have made over 14 million changes and additions to OpenStreetMap data in the Ebola-affected region. Building off of these milestones, digital volunteers are actively mapping the region affected by the recent earthquake in Nepal with support from the Department and USAID.

In addition to these efforts, many private sector entities continue to respond to the Administration’s call to action to improve disaster preparedness. Private sector responses being announced today include:

  • Nextdoor Assists Local Agencies and Residents to Build Safer Communities Together. Today, nextdoor.com, the free and private social network for neighborhoods, is announcing enhancements to Nextdoor for Public Agencies and opening its doors to welcome new local utility agencies onto the platform. The new and updated product features will give agencies across the country the ability to connect and communicate with residents. Nextdoor is being used by more than 59,000 neighborhoods and more than 750 local agencies across the country. Local agencies interested in partnering with Nextdoor can visit www.nextdoor.com/agency.
  • Civic Ninjas’ new Citizen Power Brigade Field Power Kit design to be published on GitHub. Since launching the Citizen Power Brigade project at the inaugural Civic Hardware Hackathon for Disaster Preparedness, Civic Ninjas has demonstrated their mobile emergency power solution to disaster responders and government agencies that have also helped with field-testing. The interest has prompted Civic Ninjas to redesign their Field Power Kit using low-cost, more commonly-sourced parts; the new open-source design will be published on GitHub this summer.
  • The Go Game hosts free, interactive Zombies vs. Superheroes disaster preparedness game for families. Working with the New York Police Department, American Red Cross, Tribeca Film Festival, and Games For Change, The Go Game produced a disaster preparedness game to share local resources and build community resilience. The game hosted this month coinciding with America’s PrepareAthon! guided participants to complete missions, interpret clues, and compete in relays and skill-building workshops.
  • The University of Oklahoma, Norman Public Schools, and Oklahoma Climatological Survey demonstrate middle school maker projects addressing severe weather. Supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the University of Oklahoma and partners are challenging 6th– 8th graders to become makers in the context of severe weather. Students have joined an after school maker club to work on projects including a daily forecast display in the school library, 3D models of hail, and storm shelter prototypes adapted to the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Through ongoing dialog and action, the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative is constantly seeking new ways to build upon these commitments, the innovations highlighted at our July 2014 Demo Day, and the launch disasters.data.gov. Formed by the Administration in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Initiative strives to find the most effective ways technology can empower disaster survivors, first responders, communities, and all levels of government with critical information and resources.

We encourage you to continue sharing your contributions and progress by emailing disastertech@ostp.gov and joining the millions of individuals and organizations taking action to strengthen preparedness on this Day of Action and every day.


Meredith Lee is AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Philip Ashlock is Chief Architect of Data.gov

Clarence Wardell III is Presidential Innovation Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy

2 Responses to “Taking Action for Disaster Preparedness: Technology and Innovation in Support of America’s PrepareAthon!”

  1. Andre Stone

    Very nice article and very nice ideas. Preparing for disasters is a good practice. Every individual have to do it. I will share this to all my friends and relatives. Thank you for sharing this informative post.

  2. Danielle Thompson

    I was so amazed with your content. I was looking for this kind of information for my project. This will be a big help for me. Thank you for sharing.

Comments are closed.