Data scientist creates real time map for Hurricane Harvey rescue

- The size and scope of Hurricane Harvey has made it impossible for rescue and relief agencies to come to the aid of many flood victims in the hardest hit areas.

As agencies scramble to help thousands of people forced out of water-filled homes, one tech-savvy San Francisco Bay Area woman is using social media to help recovery efforts more than 1900 miles away.

The last time a major hurricane made landfall, Twitter wasn't even born. But this time around, many residents are not only turning on the television and radio for information but they're grabbing their smartphones.

One San Francisco web developer has created an app to help. "If people post their phone number we do call them, if they're stuck on their roof , we talk to them a little bit and just kind of de-escalate and let them know that we're redirecting," said Jessica Decker, who on Friday, saw the toll Hurricane Harvey was taking and decided to put her "mapping" skills to work on Twitter.

"I just said, 'Is anybody working on this? Shelters, resources... do we have anybody mapping? There was like this resounding silence and I very quickly realized like wow, anybody? anybody?" remarked Decker.

The 38 year old ended up finding a fellow techie on Twitter, Danny McGlashing of Boston. Together, they created a website called Harvey Relief with a live rescue map, which has been used to coordinate 2164 rescues as of Wednesday afternoon. 

A relief map shows where users can find resources, aid, shelter and volunteer opportunities.
"We do have teams of people round the clock who are vetting that information and updating the spread sheet and making phone calls," said Decker.

Volunteers hail from as far as New Zealand, Belgium and East Asia. Decker admits she hasn't slept much since their web page took off.

"I think I can say for most of us we had no idea this would blow up as big as it did," said Decker. "It's been heartening and inspiring to put out a call and have this many people show up to help, it's really powerful and really amazing."

Decker stressed that the Harvey Relief website is merely providing information to people who need it, and that it's not an emergency management arm."

"People should still be calling 911 first, but while they're waiting , please tweet us- the hashtag right now is #HarveySOS for rescue requests," said Decker.

On the ground in Texas, .HarveyRELIEF is being used by the Cajun Navy and other rescuers, according to Decker.

The website makes use of Fulcrum, a platform for crowd sourcing data collection, and Tableau, a data visualization platform - both of which have provided thorough technical support for the .HarveyRELIEF effort, Decker said.

They're asking anyone currently stuck on their rooftops in need of a water rescue to use the hashtag .HarveySOS.

Since .HarveyRelief went online Friday morning, more than 500 people have gotten involved, and that number continues to grow. Anyone interested in more information on how to help can find it at harveyrelief.handiworks.co.

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