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Jill Nussbaum: Empowering Digital Citizens To Deal Better With Sandy

Relief efforts during the recent disaster were carried out mostly by on the ground volunteers but getting accurate information was difficult.

 

The case for a city-specific toolkit to connect and organize relief efforts

When I think about preparing for the next big one, I hope for more than seawalls and wetlands — I imagine a digital relief communication network, powered by mobile citizens. One of Storm Sandy’s lessons is that the most effective way to help those in need is to do it yourself. Far too many of my fellow New Yorkers who are displaced — living without food, heat, clean water, and electricity — aren’t getting the help that they need. In response, hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals have opened up their homes as temporary donation sites, driven their cars filled with cleaning supplies, home-cooked meals, and warm clothes to Rockaway, Red Hook, and Canarsie, and volunteered their time in stricken areas.

But finding drop-off donation centers, updated lists of the most-needed items, volunteer drivers and riders, and the most effective ways to donate online has been piecemeal and done mostly by word of mouth. Social media has provided a valuable platform for exchanging news quickly, but posted information can be conflicting, out of date or in the case of Facebook, totally haphazard because of the way their news feed algorithm works.

Part of New York City’s plan to prepare for the next natural disaster should include a suite of mobile communication tools, web services, and smart products that connect us directly to residents and communities in need. These apps can offer real-time updates on relief efforts, most-needed items for donations and ways to help from people on the ground.

We want to take direct action. We want our disaster relief system to be more efficient and effective. And we want to spread the word.  Let’s harness and combine our efforts, working with local government to create a response platform that empowers citizens to help one another — as we all adapt to ‘the new normal.

Jill Nussbaum is Executive Director of Product and Interaction Design at creative agency The Barbarian Group. She works with TBG’s clients to develop long-term product strategies and experiences while overseeing the Interaction Design group.

Image via mdpNY on Flickr.

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