Hacking For Humanity

Last weekend my Galvanize classmate Suzanne Rashka and I (Jordan Duncan) celebrated our first time participating in a hackathon and even more excitingly our first hackathon win! The National Security Technology Accelerator (MD5) hosted a 3-day event here in Austin, “seeking hardware and software concepts addressing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief challenges.” (https://www.md5.net/austin_splash). On Friday night several military officials, first responders and industry experts presented difficult scenarios that organizers and first responders face during disasters related to logistics and planning, communications and restoring water and power to citizens. The goal of the weekend was to develop ideas and solutions that bring powerful positive impact to communities and assistance personnel during the toughest situations.

Suzanne has military experience and I have a passion for doing all I can to make the world a better place through better technology design and use, so we showed up on Friday with an open mind and a desire to help out in any way we could. After the initial presentation there was a brief team creation period for those who came without an idea, and another local Austin resident Brianna Penney joined our team of two after being drawn to the many sticky notes we jotted on during the presentation (reminiscent of a team during scrum as we learned over the past few months). We spent the next three hours talking with dozens of military personnel, firemen, search and rescue experts and mentors to discover firsthand the pain-points they have personally experienced when disaster strikes. After hours of need finding we spent another couple hours brainstorming the list of problems discussed the most, researching existing solutions for those problems and imagining simple yet effective solutions that could be easily implemented and widely impactful. After working through ideas about drone imaging and mesh network creation, a system to unite and track families and other much needed services, we landed upon our winning concept after we thought more about something most of our interviewees repeated, “When disaster strikes everybody wants to help, but nobody knows what to do.”

These people who want to help are called “spontaneous volunteers” by those in the industry, and they come with their own needs for housing, food, water and activities or else they can become a second disaster on their own if not managed properly. Our solution is to create an intuitive platform that easily connects volunteers with incident commanders (those leading the relief efforts). By creating an easy method for excited volunteers sign up through social media and add personal skills, location and abilities to a profile, our application would allow incident commanders to easily create events and rapidly disburse much needed volunteers with specific minimal abilities to locations in the most need without having to micro-manage people individually.

The whole weekend was an incredible experience, and our time learning at galvanize helped tremendously with our ability to understand the current landscape of software capabilities, rapidly iterate through concepts while effectively judging their potential efficacy, take the perspective of potential users to design intuitive user experiences and collaborating efficiently in a fun way where everyone is excited and confident that their work is contributing to a greater whole.

We’re looking forward to an upcoming pitch at an unofficial SXSW event hosted by MD5 where the second highest ranking military official will talk about the current defense technology landscape and the winning teams from the Austin and NYC hackathons will present to him and other military leaders. (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/md5-hack-tickets-31900286616?err=29)

You can view our pitch deck here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1tg9IiYge7SS4ZHCO4h4qF0Zw2XnstEjXyQAV6x9qZFw/edit?usp=sharing

The website we made over the weekend here: www.heroanywhere.com

The facebook post where our win was announced: https://www.facebook.com/MD5net/posts/738086593013920

The hackathon event page: https://www.md5.net/hackathonw17

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