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At White House Natural Disaster Day, New Apps to Help Recovery

Developers unveil new apps and programs to make life easier for first responders and residents after disasters.

Leonard Zhukovsky /

After Hurricane Sandy leveled parts of the Eastern seaboard in 2012, Obama administration techies lamented how difficult it was to do even simple tasks (like find gas) or not-so-simple ones (like file for FEMA assistance).

In the weeks following the hurricane, residents and relief workers turned to popular apps like Waze and Twitter to share information. But the White House tech crowd urged technologists to create more disaster-specific apps and services that could be ready before future disasters strike.

Results of that project are being unveiled this afternoon at the White House. The new apps and programs, designed by tech companies as well as federal agencies, could make post-emergency life easier for residents and disaster recovery teams alike.

These sorts of technologies “can help communities respond to and recover from large-scale emergencies,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said in a statement.

Of course, using all of those cool new apps and Internet sites post-disaster may be a tad difficult since communications networks (particular wireless networks) have a nasty tendency to fail during a crisis. That’s an issue that federal officials have struggled with over the years to no avail.

But assuming you could access the Internet, these apps and services could come in handy:

  • TaskRabbit for First Responders is a new program from the helper startup that will allow authorized organizations in cities where the company offers service to post help requests during disasters. Interested “taskers” can sign up to volunteer and help those organizations.
  • Airbnb is planning to pre-identify hosts in its communities that can offer shelter to displaced residents or aid workers during disasters. The company says the program would follow on what happened during Hurricane Sandy, when many Airbnb-ers in New York offered free rooms to those in need.
  • The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will promote GeoQ, a software tool that allows people to crowdsource geo-tagged photos of an area, which could help relief agencies get a faster and better handle on which areas have been affected by a disaster.
  • Google now allows users to contribute information to its crisis map service, which provides information on emergency shelters, gas availability and power outages during natural disasters.
  • San Francisco-based Appallicious will demo its Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard which it has been developing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The dashboard is supposed to be a one-stop shop of information for residents or businesses about road closings, power outages or other data from local government officials.
  • Professional weather forecasting service RiskPulse is making free a version of its service, called, which helps track storms and other major weather events.

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