Organizations and companies ranging from NASA and the World Bank to Google and Yahoo! recently participated in a multi-city "hackathon" that brought together software developers to tackle problems related to disaster relief.
The third Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) event included more than 1,500 software developers, students and disaster risk experts at 20 locations around the world, including New York, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, Nairobi and Bangalore, India.
RHoK events bring software engineers together with disaster risk management experts to identify critical global challenges, and develop software to help respond to the issues. The meetings attract the best and the brightest hackers from around the world to serve as volunteers.
At a RHoK event in Chicago, a group of hackers worked to create an application that will access mapping data from the Rapid Response Database in NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer project. The team found the publicly available land imagery after visiting NASA's Open Government website, then worked to create a better interface to select and review the imagery.
Response teams could use this tool to more quickly identify areas that may be affected by disasters, such as flooding and forest fires.
"The RHoK hackathons provide a forum for innovators to come up with real-world solutions that can make a huge difference in people's lives," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who kicked off the New York event with introductory remarks with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. " NASA's commitment to building on its data and opening it up to other users allows us to expand the tools available for disaster response."
Google Vice President of Research Alfred Spector and RHoK co-founder Patrick Svenburg, director of government platform strategy at Microsoft, also attended the New York event.
The first RHoK event was held in Mountain View, Calif., in November 2009. It resulted in applications that were used after the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile to help identify survivors and help rescuers find them.
The second RHoK hackathon took place simultaneously in six countries in June.