Harvey Recovery: 5 Ways You and Your Computer Can Help


During the desperate days of flooding in Texas last week, much of the rescue effort was organized and carried out by regular citizens, many of them far from Houston, using simple digital tools. Official emergency phone lines were backed up, so Twitter became the place to cry for help—and across the country, people found ways to amplify and act on those tweets. A small group dubbed @HarveyRescue created an open database—a simple Google spreadsheet—and via social media mobilized an army of remote volunteers to enter details from the SOS messages that Texans were tweeting. Other volunteers helped to create a rescue map using the data in that spreadsheet. And those with access to boats used the online map, along with an app-based walkie-talkie system, to find folks who were trapped in their homes with the waters rising.

Now the recovery effort has started, and regular people are pitching in again. You may already have donated (see here for local, on-the-ground organizations that are funneling 100% of received funds to those in need). But there’s more you can do—including help with phase two of @HarveyRescue.

1. Use the Amazon Wishlist

Lysol disinfectant, large plastic totes, fruit leather—these are some of the items currently needed at shelters around the Houston area and for clean-up. To help with the logistics of getting the items to where they’re needed, the Red Cross and Amazon have created a wishlist. All you have to do is select one or more items, place them in your cart and check out. Amazon will deliver what you’ve bought directly to an operational center. The list is a work in progress, so you can check back frequently.

Click here to donate items via Amazon

2. Open Your Home

AirBnB is making it easy for people in areas of Texas and Louisiana to offer temporary shelter to evacuees—just a room or a whole home. The site is waiving service fees for anyone checking in by September 25 and has created a simple page with two buttons: I Need a Place to Stay and I Can Offer My Place for Free. More than 500 people have already posted their offers.

Click here to see which areas are covered. You’ll have to create an AirBnB account to get started.

3. Verify Information with @HarveyRecovery

If you have some spare time, you can make phone calls to verify the accuracy of information that’s being collected about available shelters, food distribution centers, hospitals, crisis lines and other resources for people who’ve been affected by Hurricane Harvey. The list is being created by @HarveyRelief—formerly known as @HarveyRescue, the group that created the open database during the flood. Like that spreadsheet, this list is open to anyone who has information to add, so your job is to make sure the info is correct before it’s mapped by other volunteers. The map is available to anyone who needs help.

Click here to access the list and read instructions. Note that you’ll need to know how to highlight text (it’s easy if you ask someone).

4. Use Aerial Images to Plot Damage

The catastrophic flooding in Texas downed bridges, flooded homes, blocked roads and created large piles of trash over a large area. Before the damage can be fixed, it has to be mapped. If you’re computer savvy and have a good eye, that’s where you come in. Tomnod is a crowdsourcing site that helps in post-disaster situations by presenting satellite imagery and relying on thousands of people around the world to search those images for specific signs. You’ll be shown what to look for; when you see it, you tag it using your mouse and keyboard. Then you move on to another square in the satellite image grid.

Click here to access Tomnod for Harvey

5. Be a FEMA Reservist

If you’re able to travel and have experience in any of a number of specialized occupations (for example: customer service, media relations, insurance, data entry) consider this on-call opportunity to help. FEMA will train you and call you when your services are needed on the ground in Houston; some tasks may be remote. This is a paid gig.
Click here for more information

If you know of other ways to help, please add them in the comments section below.


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