National Day of Civic Hacking — Southeastern U.S. Recap

Originally published at medium.com on October 26, 2017

Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Savannah, Georgia may be geographically located in the southeastern United States, but you’ll rarely see the aforementioned cities in the same sentence. This past weekend, on the other hand, designers, technologists, and community members at three separate events taking place simultaneously teamed up to “hack” on Hurricane Resilience and Response projects. The following is a brief recap of what took place.

The devastation left after Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria, forced us, with personal experiences close at heart, to deepen our understanding of existing systems and work to develop solutions for future scenarios. Code for Miami, organizers of Miami’s #HackforChange event, used predefined topics and stickers to judge project interest. Participants would sticker those topic ideas that they liked most, and then break out into groups to begin additional refinement and development.

Photo via Code for Miami

In Fort Lauderdale, a timeline was used to come to a shared definition of the key priorities for storm preparation and post-storm follow up. Many conversations circled around procuring supplies and materials, as well as keeping informed of news updates and road closures. Connectivity and integrity of data also posed unique challenges which, as many agreed, would not be solved overnight. For many, outlining the process together allows for consensus to form and inspiration to take hold.

In Savannah, Chatham Emergency Management Agency together with Open Savannah, the local Code for America brigade, invited key Resilience Experts as guest speakers and judges. These conversations helped in framing the challenges and provided context to the day to day work that happens in the field. This sharing of knowledge is critical to understanding perceived vs. actual areas of potential improvement. Thankfully, it was recorded and can be viewed here!

Panel photo via OpenSavannah

Miami also had guest speakers in attendance, which included Susana Siman, a local Urban Planner who hosted “Learning to Map Your City.” Pictured below, Dr. Athena Hadjixenofontos of the Center for Computational Science at the University of Miami, presents “The Value In Data” during a secondary breakout session.

One core team member’s wife in Savannah had to be called away to welcome the birth of a new child (🎈Congrats!🎉) yet found time to share a project completed just days earlier that visualized the history of local growth since 1838 to 1979. What lead to this enlightening GIF animation was first locating a PDF document (pictured below) that showed annexations by year. You can read more about the project here.

Land Annexation Map originally prepared Nov. 1960, before being animated into a GIF.
The Exponential Growth of Savannah” by Nick Helmholdt

In Fort Lauderdale, a passionate team of developers lead by Kyle Piercecreated OurSight, which leverages Foursquare’s API and Google’s Firebase to serve as a platform for resource availability tracking with SMS updates. “What if we could crowdsource a number of resources a specific location has?” Kyle explains on his blog, “People who are at a single location can let others know ‘this Publix has a lot of water’ or ‘this Home Depot is out of plywood’.” OurSight’s code is available on GitHub, contribute!

Kyle Pierce (bottom left) presenting OurSight. A SMS is received after using the tool (bottom right). Read his recap here.

As reported by SavannahNow.com, the winning projects included Team Wright Square with SAVeLine, “a timeline that would act as a continually updated resource for citizens, telling them what needs to be done when in the nerve-jangling five days before a forecast hurricane landfall.” Team Liberty Square created Block Hero, a game where “players accumulate points by encouraging others to sign up for CEMA Alerts, the emergency planners’ text messaging service.” Third place included Team Chippewa Square who developed SavAlert, which was described as “a phased-based approach to resource access and engagement with fellow citizens and emergency management.”

Team Liberty Square with Open Savannah’s Captain Carl Lewis

Miami’s winning teams included projects related to the mapping of tree permits, tracking king’s tide (an extra high seasonal tide that effects large portions of Miami), a SMS based Dead Man’s Switch for disaster communication, and even a team from Code4PuertoRico that created a solution for contacting loved ones without internet or SMS service using Arduino and Rasberry Pi live-streamed their demo (watch it here).

Yami & Bryce present a Tree Permit Map | Browse the photo recap here.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead
Team Photos(+ friends) in Fort Lauderdale & Savannah
Group Photo via Code for Miami | Team Buttons and Stickers in Savannah

This year’s National Day of Civic Hacking was marked by devastating storms and divisive politics, but if this past #HackforChange event has shown us anything, it’s that given that right information, timeline, and support, talented members of our community are not only ready to step up and collaborate to solve problems, but they very well may be the most important experimental force we have in our toolkit. If cities are now the new “laboratories of democracy,” then citizen experimenters and civic hackers are the new “founding fathers and mothers.”

Go work on things that matter! Join a local brigade!

A very special thank you to General Provision & covalence.io for partnering and hosting Code for Fort Lauderdale, CIC Miami for hosting Code for Miami, and Bull Street Labs for hosting Hack for Savannah!

Written by: Rob Davis| @robdotd

Video timelapse provided by Tim Hasse of Trim Agency & General Provision.

Thanks for reading to the bottom! 👀🙏

Want to learn more? Watch the short film “Florida’s Civic Hackers” now available!