Hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 1st. As early as I can remember, my mom and I picked up a hurricane tracking guide from the local grocery store and watched the storms as they entered the Gulf of Mexico. We converted part of the laundry room or pantry to non-perishable food, bleach, and water storage. My dad and I would often gear up in rain boots and jackets to rack leaves off our block’s storm drains.
I was born in New Orleans — we evacuated for Hurricane Andrew to Jackson, Mississippi. For us it was mostly uneventful, or maybe I was too young to realize. We eventually moved to Houston.
My dad and I were visiting New Orleans when Tropical Storm
Allison hit the first time. We were the last flight to land in Houston that night. My dad spent the night pacing around with kidney stones watching desperately as our house almost flooded when TS Allison swung back around. We later learned our neighborhood would now be part of a voluntary evacuation zone.
We evacuated out my nanny, a long time Nola resident, to Houston for Hurricane Katrina, only to load up the cars and evacuate from Hurricane Rita ourselves, making it only 45 minutes away from our house after 14+ hours in the car. Running out of gas, my dad made a call to a coworker who already had a number of people at her home. We joined them, slept under a pool table, and drove home the next day to minimal damage as the storm had jogged way east of us. My parents installed storm shutters and vowed to never evacuate again.
I was in college in San Antonio for Hurricane Ike. My parents home lost power for 13 days and my dad did what he could to grill for the block. They had tons of steak and egg tacos, pulling everything out of their freezers and getting it cooked before it was rotten. The roof failed and there was water damage that ran down the walls to the first floor. Rain water is always better than flood water, so we were thankful. Eventually, my parents moved out to Central Texas.
All of these times we had been very lucky. We were never in immediate danger, we always had some amount of food and water. The house could always be fixed.
Then Hurricane Harvey hit and I watched in horror as my social media filled with my friends desperate for help. Some on their roofs pleading for helicopter rescue. Others asking where their help was needed most, willing to drive their boats and launch them anywhere. Still others giving hourly updates about how much water was lapping into their houses and apartments. The most I could do was send money to organizations I thought might be able to help the best and the fastest. I could retweet and repost shelter locations, numbers to call, where volunteers were needed. But that never felt like enough.
Fast forward to now. IBM kicked off the Call for Code initiative and I’m so excited and proud to be a part of it. I’m an owner of a tech area around translation and communication, which I think has the potential to make a huge impact not to mention save tons of lives, maybe even as early as this hurricane season.
Let me share some thoughts on how I think each of the current code patterns could be used in this challenge under the realtime translation and communication.
At first I’m sure people are like “ok this only makes sense for Korean”, but I challenge you to think outside the box. Areas like the Gulf Coast are home to a literal melting pot of people who speak many different languages. Some may read their native language better than English. Getting information to all individuals during a disaster is crucial and clearly communicating it in their native language may save more lives simply through better understanding.
Let’s go even more out of the box. During the search, rescue, and recovery process we often see first responders tag homes and buildings with codes to show if the house was searched, if anyone was found, etc. These “X-codes” were most notable from Hurricane Katrina. Since most were in a standard format, we could build an app that parsed these codes into a database without having to send surveyors out over and over again. While an effort has switched to using stickers, this is still a method used today.
Have you ever watched a news handle or a particular hashtag during a disaster? It fills with pleas for help, overall confusing, and of course “thoughts and prayers” sent by well-wishers who are no where near ground zero. It would be great to filter out Tweets with irrelevant or no information during a crisis. That isn’t to say those other tweets aren’t meaningful in the long run, it’s just not something someone wants to see when they are desperately trying to find water, food, or shelter.
This one seems like we can pretty much stay inside the box. First responders, journalists, and city leaders/officials all need to work together to get information out to everyone from a command center. Again, not everyone in one area may speak the same language. Clear up the miscommunication by using their native language.
Government websites are notorious for having tons of information presented in one huge scrolling page. I don’t blame them, they have a lot of information to get out. In a disaster you need the fastest way to the most relevant information. You don’t know what to type or remember what office you need to apply to aid and how, but an intelligent search can help elevate particular pieces of information, making it as digestible as possible.
Will you answer the call? https://developer.ibm.com/callforcode/