The 6.0 earthquake that struck the Napa Valley on Sunday, August 24, did more than shatter wine bottles and damage buildings to the tune of $362 million. It served as an unnerving reminder that the entire state of California resides on troubled ground.
Of course, most Californians didn’t need such a reminder; few densely populated areas experience rumblings as often as the Golden State. But as wine country continues the long and expensive rebuilding process, it’s worth casting a light on the increasing number of startups that can aid communities during and after a fit from Mother Nature.
Civic startups like Blueline Grid, which co-founder Jack Weiss describes as a "comprehensive directory for America’s 22 million public employees."
"Today’s government relies on mobility more than ever," says Weiss. "Blueline Grid is designed to make it easier for government employees and agencies to coordinate on the go, especially during a crisis."
Weiss’ company offers a dedicated mobile communications platform that powers text, voice, group, and location services, accessible from any mobile device by any public sector employee.
"Nothing exacerbates a crisis like a lack of communication," says Weiss. "Which means the more we can keep our government agencies and its employees connected, the more lives can be saved."
This need for communication in times of need is also behind the Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard (DAAD), created by San Francisco-based Appallicious. DAAD utilizes open data to aid communities in recovering after a disaster.
"Our aim is to accelerate recovery," says Appallicious CEO Yo Yoshida. [Editor’s Note: Yoshida is a Techwire contributor.] "DAAD helps communities, businesses, and governments share vital information and resources."
DAAD also helps communities recover economically by providing a shareable marketplace. "We believe communities benefit the most when they are able to rebuild locally," says Yoshida. "DAAD makes it possible for federal and local governments to funnel recovery dollars directly to local businesses in the wake of a disaster."
As anyone who has been forced to rebuild after an earthquake or other natural disaster can tell you, recovery doesn’t end once homes and buildings are structurally sound. Even something as seemingly minor as cracked paint can serve as an unwelcome reminder of a past crisis. The challenge, though, can be in finding someone able to repaint your home or business for a price you can afford, especially when the damage isn’t covered by insurance.
Companies like EasyPaint exist to make that challenge easier to tackle by offering an online resource for homeowners and painters to easily connect. "We’re all about making the process as painless as possible," says co-founder Marty Cornish. "You shouldn’t have to rely on word of mouth or a friend of a friend when it comes to improving your home."
While EasyPaint isn’t focused on disaster relief like Blueline Grid and DAAD, Cornish recognizes that the ease-in-service his company provides can benefit communities working to rebuild. "When your neighborhood is recovering from something like an earthquake," he says, "getting things back to normal as quickly as possible is really important to communities."
Perhaps a third cousin to Blueline Grid, SeeClickFix is built around the power of direct communication. But while Blueline Grid connects government employees and agencies to each other, SeeClickFix connects citizens with their local government. "A lot of governments are stretched thin these days," says SeeClickFix CEO Ben Berkowitz. "We want to empower people to better their own communities by making it easy and efficient to bring problems to the attention of local governments."
SeeClickFix is a year-round service, but like all the startups mentioned here, they offer very real benefits during times of need. In fact, it’s easy to see how together all the companies can act as a sort of toolbox for communication during and after a crisis. SeeClickFix and Blueline Grid, for example, seem like natural partners, making it possible for citizens to report their needs to the correct government agency via the former, and government agencies coordinating relief efforts via the latter.
With these and many other tech solutions in place to ease recovery after a disaster, federal, state, and local governments would be wise to leverage them as much as possible. Government can also make these services better by opening up its data so the technology communications box can continue to grow. The Napa Valley quake may have been the biggest Bay Area earthquake in the past 25 years, but it will by no means be the last one. Disaster preparedness and recovery is a place where California should lead. Embracing the power of open data and technology can make that happen.
Mike Montgomery is the executive director of CALinnovates, which brings together stakeholders in the technology and startup communities with government leaders.