Another interesting innovation was the Sandy Coworking crowdmap. A #NYResponds initiative, the map lists spaces where people can work, recharge and reconnect. At the heart of #NYResponds is a message to encourage the tech community to get out and take direct action in the recovery process by providing tech skills and resources.
SandyBaggers offers an exemplar of how, in Lincoln’s words, “the better angels of our nature,” rush to confront disaster in the digital age. So, too, do efforts like Sandy Coworking and NeedMapper. Even FEMA has recognized the importance of digital technology in the wake of a tragedy like Superstorm Sandy; the organization’s applications for Android, iOS, and Blackberrry provide checklists, weather updates, and important relief information. This, of course, raises a question that looms over any major disaster relief effort: Where do we go from here? What lessons — and innovations — can we carry with us?
The New York Tech Meetup signed up over 800 potential volunteers to help build tools on the fly. Perhaps the most successful has been the Sandy Coworking Crowdmap, which helped businesses displaced by the storm find places to set up shop free. The map worked, and a big reason was that the local tech industry excels at spreading information internally. Efforts to reach the larger city have not caught on as easily (in part because many people’s phones did not work in the immediate aftermath of the storm).
The problem is, much of Lower Manhattan, where many are located, is still without power and Internet. But entrepreneurs, engineers and developers aren’t letting that stop them. They are camping out in one another’s apartments and offices in an attempt to still get a day’s work done. Of course, any place with a humming Wi-Fi connection, whether a coffee shop or an Apple Store, seems to be drawing displaced workers eager to get back into the swing of things. But camaraderie spurred by the storm seemed to knit the New York start-up scene together a bit tighter.
ShareDesk, a company that usually charges to connect people with available office space, placed people all over the city for free. Their site was getting flooded with startups looking for a place to work but most offices on their site were already at capacity. Rather than sit idle, they began manually making calls to anyone they could think of, even companies who weren’t members. Slowly they began finding available places, but rather than post them on their own site, they posted them on Noel’s SandyCoworkingMap. As CEO Kia Rahmani said, “It’s not about profit, it’s about helping other people out, and pooling resources is the fastest way to do that.”
One of the most amazing things is seeing the community saying ‘I have an open door. Please come in. We understand that you’ve been affected by this. We understand that your business may not survive a week or two weeks without power, without internet. So come back, get back to work, reconnect with your community, recharge and be prosperous again,’
The New York community has always joined together and felt a sense of togetherness,” O’Donnell told me. “Because we don’t have the resources of Silicon Valley, New Yorkers have realized we can only succeed by working together so it’s not surprising that people have jumped on board.