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,’
Perhaps the most visible manifestation of the post-hurricane outpouring of good feeling has been Sandy Coworking, an effort to make desks and Wifi available for anyone who need a place to be productive. Almost as soon as the clouds parted, anyone with a working office was offering to host the displaced. Staffers from Buzzfeed took up residence in Heart’s cafeteria. Kickstarter moved in with Boxee. Venture capitalist Charlie O’Donnell suggested the hashtag #sandycoworking for those seeking and offering space; as the offers began flying fast and furious on Twitter, Mr. Hidalgo hacked out a platform for anyone to list what they had.
One of the pillars of our mission is to help solve our clients’ problems. I can think of few problems larger than being unable to operate your business for days, if not weeks. I want to salute our team in New York for taking the initiative to help our clients in a time of need.