Irish charity brings digital technology to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts

2 Nov 2012

Pictured: a broken boardwalk as a result of hurricane Sandy in Rockaway Beach

An Irish charitable trust specialising in the use of digital technology in disaster response situations has been involved in the response effort following Hurricane Sandy’s destructive tirade across the east coast of the US.

Disaster Tech Lab, the organisation which honed its abilities in responding to the relief efforts needed following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, managed to provide support to the US right from their offices in Galway on Ireland’s west coast, the other side of the Atlantic.

“There is a lot more to disaster response than getting boots on the ground,” Evert Bopp, founder of Disaster Tech Lab, explained.

“Nowadays internet access and the increasing use of technology allows volunteers from across the globe to donate their time and skills to disaster response efforts.”


Much of the work is being coordinated through so-called ‘Crisiscamps’. Crisiscamps bring together domain experts, developers, and first responders around improving technology and practice for humanitarian crisis management and disaster relief. 

They are ongoing projects that spring into action whenever a disaster happens.

Crisiscamps have their origins in the response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake but their worldwide network of volunteers has since been involved in the response to more than a dozen major disasters.

There is a lot of focus during disaster response on gathering and verifying relevant data.

Bopp explained that this is where Crisiscamps are extremely valuable. They attract a large number of technologists who can lighten the load of the people on the ground by sourcing relevant data, crunching it and visualising it.

“The work done by Crisiscamps has gained recognition by the more established larger disaster response organisations such as the UN, the Red Cross and FEMA who regularly outsource work to them.

Disaster Tech Lab held its first meet-up in January 2012.

“As it happens they had already planned a Crisiscamp meet-up for this coming Saturday and this has now been dedicated to assist in the Hurricane Sandy response.

“We’ve been tied in to the whole response since the minute Sandy hit the US  shoreline, offering our support to the response effort. We have developed an online map visualising telecoms network outages as well as available public Wi-Fi locations. “Contrary to what many people would think, internet access

has become a primary need for a lot of people and we are seeing reports of people in NYC clustering outside closed Starbucks cafes to use the Wi-Fi there.”

Tomorrow the global Crisiscamp community will hold events in place in Boston, Washington DC, Galway (Ireland), Portland, Auckland (NZ), San Francisco and Seattle.

Crisiscamp Ireland is taking place tomorrow in the 091-Labs building in Galway. Volunteers attending these events will quite often work together with others at other events via video-conference, Skype chat, IRC or other means.

Hurricane Sandy image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years