Matthew Marchetti was among the thousands of Houston residents who traveled by car through the stormy turbulent waters of Hurricane Harvey as the sun set on August 27, 2017. He was sitting in a stranger's small boat, trying to rescue the neighbors and take them to a safe place. The problem was that I did not know where to look, nor did the police and fire departments.
"It was a big disaster," says Marchetti. When he disembarked on high ground, he called his friend Nate Larson and said, "You know, we should develop a small website, just for our neighborhood." His idea was to create an application in which a family in distress could quickly send a help call with their location and information, which would instantly appear on a map. A responder could pull the location to execute the rescue. Once the family is safe, the information will be deleted so rescuers can concentrate on those who still need it.
This idea, the "small website", would become something much bigger.
Mark Marchetti on his computer Coleman Studios
Marchetti and Larson created a web-based geolocation service that collected data from social networks, centralizing and visualizing help calls. It became a clearing house for the volunteers and their boats, which could then be sent to help with the ransoms. While working in his company's office all night to build the site, hurricane gusts hit the windows. The water leaked from above. The power blinked. But they finished, they put about 25 people in the system and went to bed.
When they woke up, their service had skyrocketed: there were more than 1,000 entries.
"We think for ourselves, & # 39; We're screwed & # 39;".
Marchetti says. "We're going to be in the news tonight …" The open-minded developer develops a website that does not rescue anyone ". The site gained strength, as it was shared through social networks and word of mouth. As the storm climbed, the number of rescues increased. At any given time, there were 40,000 to 60,000 people on the website.
At least 25,000 people were rescued in Houston using the application, says Marchetti. It is possible that high density rescue sites, such as a nursing home, an apartment building or a block with multiple potential rescues, have not been counted correctly. For this reason, the number of rescues could be even greater. "It is a little difficult to specify that number in a concrete way, but we are working with many universities that are analyzing this data trying to solve it," says Marchetti.
The service, now known as CrowdSource Rescue (CSR), was intended to cover the deficit of public services during a time of immense and dizzying catastrophe. CSR reduced the redundancy created by republishing and sharing on multiple platforms. He performed crowdsourcing in each part of the operation: publication, delivery, rescue and update. It allowed Houstonians and external voluntary organizations, such as the Cajun Navy, to work hand in hand with public officials.
Marchetti cites numbers to support this: CSR has spent around $ 25,000, in addition to donations, to perform 37,000 rescues to date. In comparison, FEMA spent $ 90 million and made only 9,000 rescues in the wake of Harvey. The Houston Fire Department has only 17 vessels, but thousands of boat operators used CSR.
When Harvey calmed down, Marchetti prepared to return to his daily work in real estate. Days later, another giant storm rushed to the United States: Hurricane Irma, which caused the evacuation of millions of people. Then, Marchetti and Larson quickly repaired and improved the CSR to do what they say were a couple of thousand rescues.
Weeks later, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, knocking down most of the services off line and displacing most of the island's residents. Later, an earthquake shook Mexico City and injured thousands. Then, the fires ravaged northern California and burned hundreds of thousands of acres. With each disaster, Marchetti and Larson added features, launched new versions of the application and increased reliability and ease of access.
"I guess this is just my life now."
CSR has guidelines for when to deploy its service: are the 911 resources exceeded? Are volunteers being sent to the field? Do they need a system to support their efforts? From there, "Then we try to determine if we will be effective and what our general strategy will be," says Marchetti. If CSR can help coordinate an organized and effective response, then it will enter.
"I guess this is just my life now," says Marchetti. His motorboat epiphany has made him a kind of voluntary volunteer unofficial tsar of rescue. As he and Larson prepare for the next big storm, they are about to launch a new version, a process that Marchetti describes as "very cathartic" since he has not been forced to develop it in the middle of a hurricane.
The people are paying attention. The companies, including Google and Accenture, have contributed resources and detected technical advice and training. (Google did not respond to a request for comment, an Accenture spokesperson declined to comment).
Although Nextdoor "does not have a partnership with CSR," Nextdoor spokeswoman Jen Burke said the company confirmed that a senior employee worked with CSR to make it possible for CSR users to share rescue information on Nextdoor as well. That person also introduced Marchetti and Larson to Nextdoor's chief architect, says Marchetti. State and local governments are also in talks with Marchetti to interact with CSR, he says. He and Larson have partnered with academics and universities to exploit the vast stretch of data they have acquired to get ideas and suggestions for improvement.
During Harvey, the US Coast Guard UU He instructed the victims of the storm to only call 911 or a list of designated numbers if they needed to be rescued. "If you're busy, keep trying." Do not report anguish on social networks, "they tweeted," since then, the agency has taken a measured step toward reform. "The Coast Guard is examining the lessons learned to find the best way to incorporate social network data into our response. to disaster operations, "said USCG spokeswoman Lisa Novak, but" social networks have not been continuously monitored for distress calls, and this has not changed. Calling  should be the first action for emergencies. "
CSR is an imperfect tool, and superstorms are chaotic by nature. In addition, CSR is only an organization of three people. Marchetti and his team can not verify the legitimacy of some help calls that are posted on their site. (This is also the case with 911 calls, he says, local law enforcement officials refused to comment on this observation.) To address concerns about false publication, CSR takes inventory of the metadata of a publication. "If you're sharing that someone needs to be rescued here in Houston, but the IP address is outside of Russia … we're going to be a bit suspicious," says Marchetti. But he admits that there is no way to know with certainty.
"Responding to a disaster as a civilian is not without risks."
Another problem is the safety of spontaneous volunteer rescuers. With the rescues of the vigilantes, some people will inevitably go over their heads and become part of the problem instead of the solution. "Responding to a disaster as a civilian is not without risks," says Marchetti. To minimize these risks, CSR uses a geoperimetraje technology that blocks dangerous areas. If emergency management officials have declared that an area is dangerous to civilians, a volunteer will not be sent to it. The application also allows users to mark hazards such as downed power lines or fast water.
"We had amazing volunteers, really amazing, but none of them had a Black Hawk helicopter," says Marchetti. Now, CSR is teaching the first responders and local and state agencies how to use their service. When command and control centers communicate with CSR, rescue and response efforts can be coordinated in real time.
With "more than four hours of waiting on our 911 lines … [and when] the storm reaches a point where we can not meet the demand, [and we] we need to activate the switch and get external resources, now we can do that, "Says Jesse Bounds, director of innovation for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. The next time we "release the cavalry," says Bounds, referring to spontaneous volunteers, "they will be pre-checked and automatically connected to our networks." You will not have so much need for this person with the kayak that he thinks he can go and rescue a whole family. "
CSR will provide the government with a "better and more coordinated response once its resources have been adjusted," says Marchetti. Cooperation, communication and coordination triumph over massive chaos, he says, and with good teamwork, "we can classify better, respond faster and do it more effectively".
As the water receded from Houston to the swamps, reservoirs and the Gulf Coast, Marchetti pulled out the death records of Houston County to see how the victims of the storm died. "Half of the things could have been avoided," he says.
The 2018 hurricane season is just around the corner. It is expected to be "worse than usual". When the next superstorm arrives, the authorities are probably overwhelmed, with few people and in need of help. With a new and improved application, an army of spontaneous volunteers and a real-time dialogue with public officials in the front line, "we are going to be in a really good position," says Marchetti. The "community will respond and recover faster". And lives will be saved. "