On the weekend of December 1 & 2, 2012, a global Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) hack weekend was held in 30 cities around the world to develop technology to solve some of the challenges faced by humanity. In Australia, more than seventy hackers joined forces with subject matter experts to work on this year’s theme Summer Safety, featuring problems relating to bushfire preparedness, post-disaster issue resolution and emergency response management. DiUS, RHoK’s regional partner in Australia, sent teams and helped organise the Sydney and Melbourne events.

RHoK Sydney

At the Sydney hack, one team worked on a problem posed by Thanh Le, Director of Humanitarian Emergency Response at AusAID in Canberra. Thanh explained the South West Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone regions of the world, with small populations spread out over vast distances, and yet severely affected when disasters such as large cyclones occur regularly between October and March each year.

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What is needed is a simple way to assess the severity and impact of the disaster, and quickly prioritise the local needs, so that the main donor countries for the region – Australia, New Zealand, and France – can determine what to send in the days immediately following, and by what means: by plane (quick but with limited space) or by ship (less limited but slow).

The solution being developed by the RHoK team, which they called Kool AID, aims to be a simple way to capture an affected country’s priorities, and to quickly feed that to government agencies, which can then request assistance from donor countries such as Australia.

The team made great progress on a web application over the weekend, and those efforts provide a foundation for continuing with the solution and for getting an initial, minimal product to Thanh and his colleagues at AusAID.

Resilience

Teams in Sydney and Melbourne worked on a solution that started at RHoK Melbourne in June this year. Called Resilience, the solution is aiming to be a simple mobile application that helps communities be independent in getting back on their feet after a disaster. After any disaster, there is always a groundswell of goodwill from community members wanting to help. Sometimes this goodwill can be squandered when it is misdirected or mistimed.

RHoK Sydney Presentations 3

Resilience addresses the scenario where community members report issues (such as fallen trees across a road, broken fences and wandering stock, bridges washed away, and so on), for other community members to come and help fix. It addresses issues that are not life-threatening, but that need to be resolved so the community can return to functioning normally. There are several other solutions that help government agencies keep track of post-disaster issues, but Resilience is aimed at those post-disaster issues that community members can resolve themselves.

At this RHoK weekend, the team made good progress on the iPhone application, an Android application, a web application for tracking issues, and the back-end server to manage the issues for all the front-ends. It is hoped that Resilience will be ready for trial by mid way through 2013.

And the winner is…

The solution that won the Melbourne hackathon was a response to a problem proposed by Julian Smith of the Department of Sustainability and Environment, and bushfire crew leader. One of the issues fire crews have to deal with is getting accurate information while fighting a fire. While rich information about the area and current state is available, the fire trucks themselves are reduced to radios and paper. Working with Julian, it was determined that the fire fighters almost always work in close proximity to their trucks, and that the trucks are currently undergoing an upgrade to provide a mesh network for the purposes of providing sensor data back to the control rooms.

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With the help of a small local server and the fire fighters own personal devices, rich information about Victoria (VicMaps) could be joined to real-time information from the trucks, and data entered by crew members about points of interest.

A prototype offline “cloud” to help provide information and tracking during the fire was developed and the team is committed to getting the application to a trial in several fire trucks shortly.

Want to get involved in RHoK?

If using technology to help solve some of the problems faced by humanity is something you’re interested in, RHoK holds two global hackathons per year, the next being mid 2013. Alternatively there is the RHoK ‘n’ Roll program to progress solutions that were developed over the hackathon weekends. To register your interest, email rhok@dius.com.au