Free anti-catastrophe software

A virtual community of solidarity programmers meets in different cities around the world and creates virtual tools to combat natural catastrophes. Argentina is already part of the move.


With our eyes turned to Sendai. " In obvious allusion to the tragedy that Japan is experiencing, the phrase presides over the official website of Random Hacks of Kidness (RHoK), a unique initiative born in the heat of the Internet and the drive of programmers from around the globe, which is committed to uniting digital fervor with solidarity action. Its objective? Achieve levels of excellence in the software applied to prevention or assistance in disaster situations. The move, which is sponsored by Google, Microsoft, the World Bank and Yahoo, is based on what the participants call the marathons: for two days, simultaneously, software developers and experts in disaster management meet in various cities around the world to generate open source software models, adapted to different geographical or social situations, and applied to humanitarian tasks (rescue, assistance to earthquake victims, health campaigns during floods, etc.). At the end of the marathon, a panel of experts reviews each result and decides which is the winning proposal.

Launched in 2009, in June of this year the meetings will have their fourth edition, presumably under the influence of Japanese events and with an explicit call to the international academic community to join the cause.

The RHoK universe already has its achievements to show off. For example, one of the winning apps from the June 2010 marathon in Washington is being used by the World Bank in the Caribbean. This proposal is a tool that allows engineers to easily visualize the risk of the land, to help the development of rural and urban infrastructure.

Last December, Argentina participated with a marathon held in Buenos Aires, in parallel with those that were also held in Toronto, Nairobi, Lusaka, Bogotá, San Pablo, Tel Aviv, Birmingham, Mexico City, Juarez, Singapore, Atlanta, Chicago , New York, San Francisco and Seattle. At the local level, the project chosen by the jury was Yerbus, developed by Julián Gutiérrez, José Luis Díaz, Mauro Monti, Mariano Stampella and Santiago Tenti. “The initiative is a platform that operates on any social network and acts as a link between NGOs and people interested in collaborating. To do this, the NGO in question, through Yerbus, places an order to its followers - such as food, blankets or mattresses. The person who wishes to collaborate clicks on the link that is shown and leaves their data, becoming a potential donor. Once the person makes the donation, the system publishes on the donor's social networks a thank you with another link that indicates that this person was part of that campaign. Thus, the donor is allowed to track where the donation ended, giving transparency to the entire operation ”, explains Mauro Monti. For his part, José Domínguez, leader of Globant (host firm of the Buenos Aires RHoK), assures: «The project aims to encourage the solidarity of people by giving transparency to donations through social networks. In our country many people do not collaborate because there are no clear mechanisms, in this sense this software can help ».

-What other requirements should this type of development have to give an effective response to a catastrophe?

"Fundamentally, continuity," Domínguez replied. During the two days of the event the prototypes are raised. Therefore, it is essential that there is continuity of these projects by the open source community or in Globant Labs.

-What is the biggest challenge that the RHoK must overcome?

-Continue spreading and making known this type of initiatives in society. Technology can be one of the most important catalysts in responding to natural disasters. In the future we will be covering a larger population, which will allow us to have more ideas, applications and proposals that are useful to NGOs and governments. Among the greatest potentials posed by RHoK is that NGOs and experts in natural disaster situations have at their disposal a community of supportive programmers willing to lend a hand to face these types of problems.

-How do you evaluate the Argentine participation in this initiative?

-These meetings serve to give a local vision, to consider our specific problems. Beyond the fact that there are natural disasters all over the world, we believe that the wealth of bringing them to Argentina comes from the fact that we can take a deeper look at our problems and see in what way technology can be of help in those cases. RHoK brings together local disaster experts with programmers to apply their knowledge to specific problems, while the experts discover how to use technology to attack their problems. While excellent quality software is developed to solve local problems, a space is created for participants to support themselves by doing what they love the most.

"You can change the world in one weekend," proclaim the enthusiastic organizers of the hackathon-marathons. Expectations, by the way, are not lacking. For now, they have already received the thanks of Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, who highlighted his actions in addition to postulating the role of technology in pursuit of a better global future.

Source: The Nation Magazine


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