With wildfires once again raging through California, including the largest in the state’s recorded history, it would be easy to lose faith in our ability to limit the damage caused by natural disasters. I reflected on this as teams gathered in Puerto Rico earlier this month, almost one year since Hurricane Maria tore through the islands and as the inhabitants braced themselves for the upcoming hurricane season. Led by IBM’s Dr. Angel Diaz, a native of the region, there was a palpable sense of optimism and excitement in the room, given stark relief by the devastation still visible outside. For two days, NGOs, relief organizations, and members of the local startup and developer communities came together to explore ways in which technology could help better prepare and protect their communities for the future.
National news outlets took notice and shed some light on this incredible event:
This was one of 300 events held in more than 50 cities around the world thus far — part of the inaugural Call for Code, a new global initiative — created by David Clark Cause, a renowned leader in cause-related initiatives. The initiative is powered by IBM as founding partner and is designed to rally the technology industry, academia, and NGOs in an effort to help reduce the impact of natural disasters, such as fires, floods, volcanoes, hurricanes and tsunamis on society. As founding partner, IBM is investing $30 million over the next five years, as well as technology and resources with the goal of developing technology solutions that significantly improve disaster preparedness, provide relief from devastation caused by natural disasters, and benefit Call for Code’s Charitable Partners.
Even as we made the announcement at VivaTech in Paris in May, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano was destroying hundreds of homes and soon afterward Guatemala’s ‘Volcano of Fire’ left hundreds dead and missing. Against this backdrop, we placed our belief in the promise of technology and the willingness of developers around the world to invest their skills and drive positive and long-lasting change in society.
We were not disappointed.
Thousands of developers from around the world have answered the call. More than 30 organizations are now signed up as program partners or affiliates, and more than 20 IBM clients have engaged their in-house developer teams to build solutions designed to help improve the current state of disaster preparedness. We’ve benefitted from the support of generous celebrity supporters and content partners, as well as a panel of eminent judges who have volunteered to help select the winning technologies.
The creativity of these communities has been equally inspiring. With access to IBM cloud technologies — such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, and blockchain — we’ve seen teams exploring effective ways to alert populations on evacuation procedures; ideas for getting real-time weather data to firefighters tackling wildfires; hurricane prediction and storm modeling solutions to better understand when to ask populations to evacuate coastal areas; and ways to help equip populations to survive the critical 72 hours immediately following an earthquake.
At the hackathon in Puerto Rico, we heard a compelling idea named DroneAid, from local developer Pedro Cruz, using drone and visual recognition technologies to help first responders identify the areas and families in greatest need. You can catch a glimpse of DroneAid and hear from its creator in this video:
The response has been humbling and overwhelming. So overwhelming that we were encouraged to extend the window for submissions, from the end of August to September 28, giving universities like Cornell time to engage their students after the summer break and giving teams more time to develop their life-saving submissions. We also extended the prizes, with the top team winning $200,000 and the chance to present their technology to New Enterprise Associates, a venture partner to the cause, as well as appearing at a benefit concert in San Francisco in October. Prizes will now be awarded to the top five submissions, and IBM Corporate Services Corps volunteers will help deploy the winning technologies, along with the winning team, where they are needed the most.
As heartened as we are by the response, there is always room for more people to get involved. We need champions, advocates and most of all, we need developers to help renew faith in our ability to overcome one of the greatest challenges facing society today.
We can’t prevent natural disasters, but the development community can come together to create solutions to improve the current state of disaster preparedness and recover efforts.