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SandyCrashPads: Couchsurfing To Make The Hurricane's Aftermath More Manageable

To help people forced out of their homes by the storm, a few intrepid hackers are working on a way to connect evacuated people with spare beds.

SandyCrashPads: Couchsurfing To Make The Hurricane's Aftermath More Manageable

The Eastern Seaboard has already experienced the brunt of Hurricane Sandy; there is more wind, rain, and snow to come, but in many places the worst damage has been done. Now comes the arduous task of sorting through the debris and cleaning up. Some people will have to leave their homes while repairs are made and floodwaters recede. That’s where SandyCrashPads could come in.

SandyCrashPads, a simple work-in-progress service that matches up people who need places to stay post-hurricane with people who have available rooms, is part of a larger movement of "Hurricane Hackers" spearheaded by Sasha Costanza-Chock, a professor of civic media at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with other members of the MIT Center for Civic Media.

A preliminary UI screenshot of SandyCrashPads.

On Sunday Night, Sasha Costanza-Chock created a Hurricane Hackers Google doc and started inputting ideas for a number of hurricane-related projects, including the SandyTimeline (already available), a place to crowdsource all Sandy-related livestreams called SandyStreamsMap (working demo available), SandyCrashPads, and a non-emergency issues reporting platform based on SeeClickFix called SandyIssuesMap . "The goal here is to build some tools. The first tools were info broadcasts like SandyTimeline and SandyStreamsMap, and the next are trying to make some community spaces for people," explains Chris Peterson, a Research Assistant at MIT Center for Civic Media who has been working on Hurricane Hackers.

It’s not just MIT people working on Hurricane Hackers. After BoingBoing pointed out the Google doc and associated IRC channel on Monday morning, several thousand people started perusing the ideas. Now there are a couple dozen people who are consistently helping with the projects, according to Peterson.

SandyCrashPads isn’t available yet (coders can dive in here). "We’re thinking of this in a CouchSurfing sort of sense. We’re hoping that if we build this out, we might be able to get some kindhearted people interested in offering up free space that they have," says Peterson. "We’ve put out feelers towards Craigslist, CouchSurfing people, and Meetup and said 'Hey, is there a platform that exists that we can customize for this particular service?' We have some coders hanging out in Hurricane Hackers who are working on a few very basic versions of this so we can roll our own if we need to." One basic problem noted in the Hurricane Hackers doc: It might be difficult for people who need the service to access it as long as power outages are widespread.

Costanza-Chock is focusing his energies on another project—an online memorial space for people who passed away or are missing as a result of the hurricane. "We want be able to tell stories both in the hopes that it will create human connection and … to make sure people have this lesson to take these storms seriously," explains Peterson.

When I spoke to Peterson on Monday evening, he had devoted a full day and a half to Hurricane Hackers. Whether that work could continue depended a few things, he said: what happens on the ground in affected areas, how many people are willing to contribute, and, of course, whether MIT continues to cancel class.