FEATURE STORY

Innovative Apps for Disaster Risk Reduction Win Global Attention

June 30, 2014

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Code for Resilience global initiative connects technologists with mentors and sector specialists to create tech-based tools that help reduce disaster risk.
  • Three teams won grand prizes for building innovative disaster resilience apps.
  • The winners have the opportunity to pitch their tools to over 800 experts at the Understanding Risk Forum in London and to participate in a study tour with major technology companies.

What if a mobile phone app could save your life or prevent you from submerging your car on a flooded road? Technologists working through the Code for Resilience community have been developing just that sort of live-saving technology during a year-long initiative to increase the availability of locally relevant technologies that can strengthen community resilience to natural disasters.

Over 1,000 software and hardware developers participated in 11 hackathon events in nine countries: Bangladesh, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United States, and Vietnam. Over a marathon weekend of creative brainstorming and rapid prototyping, they built tools to address a series of disaster resilience challenges that had been defined during community workshops and by the public.

The Code for Resilience activities celebrate local winners and also encouraged the coders to continue developing their ideas into mature applications over a three-month online mentoring period. At least five teams are still at work with local governments to implement and scale up these tools.

“Japan is prone to natural hazards like earthquakes and tsunamis, so we understand first-hand the importance of making communities more resilient to disasters,” said Taichi Furuhashi, lead local organizer for the Japan hackathons. “We are pleased to leverage the power of Japan’s civic hacker community to source innovative solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our region.”

The resulting apps from these events range from support to rescuers during an emergency to a maternal health digitization tool.

A global panel of judges selected 10 finalists from more than 60 submitted apps, and three grand prize winners were chosen to present at an awards ceremony at the Understanding Risk Forum on June 30 in London. The forum is one of the world’s premiere events highlighting disaster risk management that brings together over 800 representatives from academia, multilateral organizations, government, and the private sector.

“In the lead up to emergencies, access to accurate information can mean the difference between life and death,” said Francis Ghesquiere, head of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), one of the partners behind the Code for Resilience initiative.  “Code for Resilience has enabled increased collaboration between governments and local technologists to source innovative solutions to local resilience challenges.”

The winning teams include:

Jakarta Flood Alert (from Indonesia) – This mobile app monitors 14 sluices for current water levels, change in the past six hours, and other measures. Users get the latest information about the sluices’ condition and the chances of upcoming floods in specific locations, which can be shared through social media to inform and prepare others in the area.

Open Quotes

Code for Resilience has enabled increased collaboration between governments and local technologists to source innovative solutions to local resilience challenges. Close Quotes

Francis Ghesquiere
Head, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery

Nigechizu (from Japan) – Meaning “evacuation map,” this web-based tool digitizes collaborative maps which are drawn in community workshops to indicate evacuation times. The digital version allows for interaction to evaluate evacuation times for user-identified routes, propose alternative routes and support urban planners and disaster management authorities.

Quick Disaster (from Indonesia) – Built for wearable devices, this application performs a variety of functions to inform users about disasters. Using real-time location data, for instance, users receive a warning when they enter areas that are prone to particular disasters, and are shown evacuation routes when a disaster strikes.

"For us, Code for Resilience has been a unique opportunity to refine our idea and showcase it in front of a global community," said Riska Fadilla, a member of the Jakarta Flood Alert team that won the People's Choice Award after receiving the most votes on Twitter. "It's also an exciting chance to meet other developers who share our desire to improve disaster resilience in our communities."

Following the awards ceremony at the Understanding Risk Forum, the winning teams will join a study tour with technology firms in London, including Mozilla, Google Campus, and the Impact Hub, to be inspired, share, and learn about innovation approaches and opportunities for the further engagement and development of their ideas.

As simple as an app may seem, the collective effort in developing community initiatives to increase resilience to disasters helps to catalyze and leverage user-driven innovation.  Such efforts help to address global development challenges while building sustainable relationships between entrepreneurs, private sector, multilaterals, universities, and the individuals who are affected by these development challenges. 

Code for Resilience is supported by the GFDRR, the World Bank Group, and Code for Japan.