On October 10 – 11, technologists, entrepreneurs, and innovators across the public and private sectors participated in the first Civic Hardware Hackathon for Disaster Preparedness in support of the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative. Co-hosted by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), The Feast, IDEO, and Intel, the two-day event focused on creating and refining solutions to empower the disaster resilience community and survivors with critical information and resources.
First announced by DHS S&T at the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day on July 29, the Civic Hardware Hackathon was held in Red Hook, Brooklyn – a neighborhood still rebuilding from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
From the start, the hackathon organizers shaped the interaction to enable collaboration and to strengthen participants’ insights about end-user needs. After a series of introductory conference calls where civic hackers shared their project goals and challenges, the participants convened Friday morning at the Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation in Red Hook. The hackathon included a Human-Centered Design workshop, a visit to the New York City Office of Emergency Management (NYC OEM), and field testing with volunteer first responders at the Red Hook Initiative (RHI).
The Civic Hardware Hackathon included hands-on workshops, a visit to the New
York City Emergency Operations Center, and field testing with volunteer first
responders at the Red Hook Initiative Community Center.
Soldering stations were used to prototype sensors and other devices.
A “pop up” classroom built in a shoebox for the hackathon.
A Red Hook Initiative Local Leader and Emergency Medical Technician shares
the Civic Ninja “Citizen Power Brigade” prototype with neighbors during the hackathon.
Here are some ways these hardware innovators are working to make American communities more resilient and prepared for disasters:
In addition to these teams and the event co-hosts, participants included The Rockefeller Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Millennium Challenge Corporation, SparkFun Electronics, littleBits, 3DSystems, Microsoft, DoGoodBus, NYC OEM, RHI, and the American Red Cross.
From off-the-grid messaging using off-the-shelf components, to crowdsourced data and open hardware, the event emphasized community resourcefulness and capabilities that could be sustained under harsh conditions. Robin Reid, Brooklyn resident and hackathon mentor, noted:
“Participants were challenged to question their assumptions and see the big picture impact in addition to putting in the hours to get the hardware to work.”
As Laura McLaughlin from Cascade Designs commented:
“The event brought together creative and open-minded people willing to roll up their sleeves to help, plus compelling real-world challenges – a recipe for collaboration and creativity.”
Coverage of the event can be found by following the hashtag #disastertech on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets. In addition, The Rockefeller Foundation has sponsored a platform, Feast Connects, to enable continued collaboration. Participants will be able to share ideas, open source code, data, and open hardware designs to allow the community to build on progress made at this year’s event.
Meredith Lee is AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate.
Rafael Lemaitre is Director of Public Affairs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Brian Forde is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.