Global DIRT first began tracking Hurricane Sandy as it gained force in the Caribbean and headed towards a team stationed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After working non-stop for the first week, the situation in Haiti stabilized and part of the DIRT team traveled to New York City where the storm had just impacted. The initial assessment of the disaster identified a critical need for interagency coordination between aid groups, a reliable form of digital communication, and the identification of individual family needs in order to connect them with the appropriate group. DIRT then brought in team members and associates from partner organizations around the globe to scale up response operations This included members of the Volunteer Army Foundation of New Zealand, computer programmers from Boston and Ireland, and additional personnel from Haiti.
Global DIRT first began assisting in the Belle Harbor section of New York, which quickly turned into a hub for private sector donations that were flowing in from the city. At that location, the team credentialed volunteers, coordinated food delivery, and distributed hundreds of thousands of items to the Rockaway residents. DIRT then began working with various small groups that were being formed to do everything from debris removal to health and wellness checks. It became clear that the disaster would require countless hours of volunteer manpower and support from the private sector to work with City, State, and Federal government agencies operating in the area. The team began to see issues emerge from inaccurate or outdated information. To better inform storm survivors, Global DIRT reached out to Toyota and other private sector partners who were able to print tens of thousands of multilingual information packets to distribute at relief shelters.
The biggest challenge residents faced immediately after the storm was communicating with loved ones and agencies that could provide aid. This was due to the collapse of all traditional utilities in the area (cable, internet, cell phones, landlines, radio, and printed news). After identifying the gap in providing these critical needs, DIRT contacted GATR, a company that provides inflatable ground antenna solutions for broadband internet and New Spirit Alliance for funding. Within 48 hours, DIRT had established a working network to provide internet access to thousands of residents. Shortly thereafter, Google came in with Chromebooks, allowing the team to set up free cyber café sites across the city to facilitate resident enrollment in FEMA assistance and NYC’s Rapid Repairs programs.
Through interaction with Super Storm Sandy survivors, Global DIRT began to see a critical gap where residents were in need, agencies were providing critical services to assist with the problem, and the two groups were not able to find each other. The New York National Guard was tasked out to NYC’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and was going door to door to check on residents as the temperature began to drop and winter approached. Realizing the human resources available through the National Guard, the team quickly developed a web-based application platform that operated in the cloud to allow soldiers to enter information on resident needs into tablet computers. Through funding from The Robin Hood Foundation, Global DIRT scaled the project up and was able to complete over 140,000 home visits to collect critical needs data. This information was then sent in real time from NYC OEM to NYC City Hall’s Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence (CIDI), a health and human services data clearing house for the city, who then sent needs requests to city agencies in real time. This allowed for resident evacuation to temporary housing, provided for food and supply delivery for homebound and disabled residents, and enabled critical utilities to be turned on in resident homes. Global DIRT then implemented Immersive Media’s Street View technology to further identify damaged areas and map the recovery progress. These technology innovations allowed the team to stay connected with residents in need for months after the storm, ensuring the no resident was left behind.