Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Flood Hack: Developers Build Flood-Relief Apps

The recent flooding in England has brought in developers together in an effort to provide relief with ingenious apps and systems created over night.

The initiative kicked off on Friday, the 14th of Feb, in a No. 10 meeting where the government called on the tech community to make use of the flood data from the Environmental Agency. This was a monumental change from the usual mindset of holding on to data records, due to lack of clear directives of what to do with it.

Once the main issues have been resolved with accessing the records, the statistics updated every 15 minutes, providing live data to the 100 developers. Microsoft, Google, Facebook engineers, as well as independent programmers answered the call to action.

The event proved that data can be used in efficient and creative ways to help in crisis situations. The result was setting up a hackaton where developers could bring in ideas evaluated by a panel of judges. Hacks have been documented here. An outstanding entry was finding a way to instantly report on damaged flood defences, as the Environmental Agency reported that the function was flawed by hoax reports.

The digital efforts have been great, but its success depends largely on volunteers' help and on efficient promotion; as one of the participants said: “if we don’t find a way to make this memorable and public-facing this will all get lost in the computer”.

It’s a refreshing change for the public to physically benefit from data harvesting, but ultimately it’s a wonderful way to prove that the tech community can work together with the general public and bring in ideas which can be translated in real, immediate solutions.

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