Call for Code: A Hackathon in Recognition of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day
Last Saturday, May 4th, IBM and 42 Silicon Valley teamed up for a one-day hackathon known as Call for Code. In support of a great cause, the Call for Code Global Challenge 2019 is in recognition of Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. This is the second year in a row that 42 hosted a Call for Code hackathon. Last year, over 100,000 developers from 156 nations competed in the Call for Code 2018 Challenge. Lali Wildfire Detection, the team that won the 42 Silicon Valley Call for Code hackathon in 2018, was a top 3 finalist in the Global Prize Celebration in San Francisco! So naturally, we are excited about this year’s Call for Code hackathon as well.
Call for Code asks participants to, “create practical, effective, and high-quality applications based on cloud, data, and artificial intelligence that can have an immediate and lasting impact on humanitarian issues. Building on the success of the 2018 competition, the Call for Code 2019 Global Challenge again asks teams of developers, data scientists, designers, business analysts, subject matter experts and more to build solutions that significantly improve preparedness for natural disasters and accelerate relief when they hit.” This year also has a focus on community and individual health and well-being.
There were around 100 participants at the 42 Silicon Valley hackathon with some amazing mentors with experience in emergency preparedness. The mentors gave insight to participating team members about what type of tech solutions are needed to help them fight natural disasters. During the hackathon, coders worked in teams to develop project ideas on how best to help those who help us.
“We Care about these Projects and we Care about the Future of Everybody”
42’s Corporate Relations Manager, Jamie Parenteau, kicked off the event and welcomed the audience. She encouraged hackathon participants to talk to the local experts, “This is a chance to get to know the local folks and learn how to help. Get to understand the equipment they deal with as part of their struggles.”
42’s Chief Academic Officer, Gaetan Juvin, spoke to the audience. He noted the significance of participating in a hackathon like Call for Code, “I think today is an important day to do something impactful. 42 is about combining creativity and passion. To do that we need the time, and we are happy to have everyone here on a Saturday morning. We want to thank mayor Lily Mei for being here and we want to thank IBM because it is a great cause. It is important to act on that, at 42 we care about these projects and we care about the future of everybody.
What you are doing today is very important, it is part of building something. You can put it on your resume or GitHub, but it is also part of your story. For me it is very important because everything is fine right now, we are safe. But who do we call in an emergency situation? We call our firefighters and first responders. Call for Code is where I hope through innovation and creativity we will build something that will help them so they can help us.”
“This is a Serious Problem that all of us should be working on”
Omkar Nimbalkar, IBM’s Vice President of Client & Partner Developer Advocacy was one of the speakers. He shared with the audience, “If I look at the wildfire that happened last year the statistics show there were 8,527 fires, 1,893,913 million acres burned, 3.5 billion dollars in damages, 98 residents and 6 firefighters killed, and 18,000 structures were destroyed. So looking at the magnitude of the destruction that happened to both lives and property is something I am truly passionate about.
I think looking at the statistics is key to creating solutions so we can better prepare and mitigate the effects of a natural disaster. We started Call for Code last year, and I think the hackathon will definitely help in the cause. We as developers have the skills needed to tackle this problem head-on. When we talked to first-responder and even the UN they told us if you get an early warning even by 1 hour you are able to save lives and save property. This is a serious problem that all of us should be working on. ”
Jamie Lawrence, who works on Corporate Citizenship for IBM, spoke to the audience. She shared, “I do our corporate social responsibility work on the west coast. I wanted to thank you for being here. We try to solve these problems because this is where we live and work. These are our friends and families, and as we heard this will not end. Today we will look at how we can work together to find these solutions.”
“You will truly be making a difference for the people who will be most impacted”
Fremont’s Mayor Lily Mei also spoke to the crowd. She shared, “Thank you for taking the time to join us. I appreciate you working together and using the technology to apply it to the community. Being part of the community I am encouraged to see how technology can be used to address solutions. We are the 4th largest city in population and 2nd largest in land mass. When we look at natural disasters, or ones we need to be prepared for like earthquakes, in these situations we ask ourselves: how do we address those concerns? Within the city of Fremont, we have an excellent fire department as well as public safety and police. I think a lot of cities right now are wanting to be smart cities and to be prepared in case of an emergency. You will learn from the team later today how these are being implemented.
This means so much for those directly dealing with these disasters
Fremont is known for its technology, we are big on solar and how the real focus and pledge is on greenhouse gas emissions. One of the three finalists last year came from this room. We want to be thoughtful in case of emergencies. We have solar capacity that normally helps us for energy efficiency. But during an emergency we will be prepared to go off the grid because we have the capacity, during the most critical hours, to be up and running.
In this discussion today I want you to know how much this means to us for people who may be dealing directly with these disasters. If you are able to come up with solutions and ideas that allow us to best utilize the technology, resources, and knowledge it will help us better prepare. You will truly be making a difference for the people who will be most impacted. I thank you for that thoughtfulness.”
“With Call for Code, We Get a Chance to Get our Minds to Meet”
Jeff Youngsma, Battalion Chief at the City of Fremont Fire Department spoke about how tech is needed to help fight against natural disasters. He explained, “As an end user, I really rely on technology to do our job better. Currently, 3 out of 11 fire stations in Fremont are fully solar powered. Our police building and corporation yard are also self-contained with solar panels. Our EOC is operational and all necessary equipment can operate independently if infrastructure fails. Despite these advances, early fire detection and calculated spread still remain problematic. This stuff affects me and keeps me awake at night. I want to know what we can do to make this number smaller.
Some of the technology that is needed for firefighters
There are advances but they haven’t been implemented state-wide. The biggest issue is advanced warning notifications and evacuations. This year has even greater potential. Software for individuals and shelters can be used to track those who evacuated, even when cell sites are down. There is a health and wellness component that is needed, such as medical monitoring for firefighters. We are in 100-degree heat wearing 20 lbs of equipment and hiking up a hill. So a simple device that could be strapped on to let us know how much activity we are getting, such as my core temp getting too high, and monitoring carbon monoxide. We are doing a lot of electronic care reports, but what happens if these programs don’t talk to each other because one is iOS and another Android? There needs to be a way for them to still talk to each other and stay encrypted.
With Call for Code, we get a chance to get our minds to meet. Hackathon participants can develop that type of technology that is needed. I don’t have that skill or ability but we can look at how we can better serve humanity. We can fight the fire but we can’t do that without working together.”
“We are here to continue the conversation and react better when moving forward”
Jacob Peterson is the Development Director at United Way of Northern California. He spoke about the non-profit’s experience with the fires in Butte County and Paradise. Peterson shared, “We are excited to be here to continue the conversation with you guys. IBM has played a significant role already to respond to the people at the Camp Fire. We are here to continue the conversation and react better when moving forward. Our area is unique because we had two major wildfires hit our region.
The first was the Carr Fire that hit Redding on July 23rd. We were personally impacted by it, we had people lose their homes. I remember the fire was moving rapidly and the winds were high. We had to evacuate our office, our home base during one of the biggest disasters. We had a plan to meet up and respond and in the meantime evacuate. It became very real for me and I remember driving away and looking at the rearview mirror at our home. I realized we may not be able to get back anything that wasn’t in our car. Sadly we knew it would be a reality for many people.
Providing Emergency Grants to Those in Need
These are stats from just the Carr Fire: 229,651 acres burned, 1,604 structures were destroyed, and 1,079 homes were destroyed. That is a lot for a small town. Sadly 6 lives were lost, 3 of those were firefighters and 3 were civilians. We felt we needed to respond in a big way so we launched a relief fund. One of those most critical things that people needed was emergency cash assistance. They literally needed resources to relocate because they didn’t have a home to get back to. We raised 1.7 million dollars which translated to 1,300 emergency grants that went to individuals and families who lost their homes. We distributed these funds directly as well as other agencies nearby.
Then the Camp Fire hit, it was hard for us to imagine something being worse. As the Camp Fire started ripping through Paradise we saw people fleeing to save their lives. This was 2 months after the Carr Fire. As part of our response, we put out the same emergency grants to offer assistance to people who needed help. Nearly 11 million dollars was raised and we distributed over 5 million. We were able to directly assist at least 8,000 individuals and families, knowing 14,000 homes were destroyed. We were able to do so with at least 288 volunteers, we recorded 1,800 hours which included IBMers.
United Way is Always Responding to the Needs of the Community
What are the needs and why are we here today? At the time of the Carr Fire, we had a staff of 5 people trying to respond to thousands of individuals that desperately needed help. Today, following the Camp Fire incident, we know that 2,000 individuals who lost their homes are still trying to find places to live.
We know we need to continue to meet the needs and step up as an agency and help as much as we can. United Way is always responding to the needs of the community. We focus on education and health outcomes but we were not set up to manage and administer thousands of cash grants. For us, it is about resources coming in. We had a small staff and we did not have the ability to push our message out.
We had people who wanted to help but they didn’t know the agencies they needed to connect with. They called us to make sure we were a legit non-profit. So how do we get those messages out to people faster when we need to get those resources? Even though we raised close to 11 million dollars, it was only a drop in the bucket compared to the billions worth of damage. It wasn’t just bringing resources in, but distributing funds to over 8,000 individuals and families. Those applications had to be vetted. We had to focus on the mapping to see which individual homes were completely destroyed.
This will not be the last disaster in our area so we must work together
Another challenge included tracking people down and trying to help them. We didn’t know where they were, and we had inadequate technology to communicate back and forth. We are here today because we know this will not be the last disaster in our area. Shasta County, where we are located, is one of the 6th most vulnerable areas for wildfire in the state of California. We want to work with you guys and we hope you guys can help us. We want to better assist people who still need our help and individuals who will be impacted during our next disaster.”
42 Silicon Valley’s Call for Code Finalists
There were six judges who decided the winner of the 42 Silicon Valley Call for Code hackathon. The judges included:
Gerry Baranano, Director at Tech Futures Group
Gaetan Juvin, Chief Academic Officer at 42 Silicon Valley
Keith Koo, Founder & CFO and Radio & Podcast Host
Omkar Nimbalkar, IBM’s Vice President of Client & Partner Developer Advocacy
Saishruthi “Shruthi” Swaminathan, IBM Data Scientist and Developer Advocate
Jeff Youngsma, Battalion Chief at the City of Fremont Fire Department
The top 3 finalists, as well as an honorable mention, at 42 Silicon Valley’s Call for Code hackathon included the following teams and their projects:
First Place: Emergency Info Guide
Team member: Kenji Kato
Project Details: Kenji Kato participated in 2018’s Call for Code at 42 Silicon Valley and shared that last year’s event and previous stuff he worked on influenced the process in his winning project. Kato discussed his project more at length, “The name Emergency Info Guide doesn’t necessarily denote what it is about. The general concept is that it is for an IoT weather station. It is a device that senses temperature, wind direction, barometer, moisture and air quality like CO2 particulates. The device is a small package designed to be carried by firefighters and is like an oversized tent spike. You can drive it into the ground, and unscrew the top where the antenna pops up and that is part of the weather station.
It is cheap enough that firefighters can carry it with them wherever they are and it gives them real-time data about the environment around them as well as about the fire. This gives them the ability for on the ground information and would provide them an early warning system. If a fire comes back around the sensor would let them know, since it can detect wind direction speed. Firefighters have gotten killed because conditions change rapidly. They get trapped in a situation where they think it is safe, but the wind and weather conditions changed. These are small sensor systems they could plant in areas untouched by fire that would give them information about the weather shifting in a different way.
Emergency Info Guide Doubles as an Emergency Communication Relay Network
There is another component of this device. It doubles as an emergency communication relay network. Using software that is called a soft forming edge or mesh network, because of the design of the software it makes an edge note which can connect to a communication network. The software can self create these mesh networks. What’s cool is that it will work with any software that uses this library. Your phone, tablet, or laptop can connect to this network and communicate with other devices on the network. When there is a lack of information during an emergency it is important to get that real-time information. Creating a network that can continue to communicate even if traditional networks go down is needed.
The idea is beyond just firefighters carrying them. Local cops could deploy them around the city and have information about the location that may be directed by the fire for real-time information. As for the cost of this device, it took around $200 to source all the parts to build the prototype. I am in touch with someone who does IoT manufacturing to see if the price fits.
Second Place: FREE Sensor
Team Members: Steven Limon, Roy Stahl, Taylor Yang, Vasanth Thirugnanam and Max Moros
Project Details: The “FREE” in FREE Sensor is an acronym for “First Responder Emission Equipment.” The team consists of 42 students and members from outside the school. According to Taylor Yang, “We track dangerous particles and other sensor data on a firefighter during an event where firefighters are in the field. We can use this data to help commanders decide who to pull back and who to deploy into the field. In the long term, we can also help firefighters manage their health with the data collected throughout their career. In addition, we can make custom training routines to optimize each individual’s abilities during a disaster.”
Third Place: Wilderness Patrol
Team members: Ian Wagner, Don Stolz, Elliot Tregoni, Sam Bogar, and Sam Oliveira
Project Details: A team of 42 students is behind Wilderness Patrol. According to Ian Wagner, “Our project used Watson AI to help homeowners protect their homes. It looks at the property and detects whether the home has the proper defensible space around it that meets CA guidelines. This could be the difference of a home surviving a wildfire by having a break space between the fuel and the home. We trained it using satellite images and plan to proceed to use images taken from the house or by using drones. We also trained a feature to help identify the brush around the home to make sure the plants are classified as California native fire resistant. I very much enjoyed the hackathon.”
Honorable Mention: Disaster Adventure
Team Members: Jamie Dawson, Lucy Evstratova, and Felix Reynoso
Project Details: 42 students worked on an app that delivers a simple way to prepare and act for disasters. There are two different modes, one is a game to help prepare you and the other is an emergency mode. Lucy Evstratova told us more about their project, “The goal of our project is to educate and instruct people to better prepare for disasters. It is an action-algorithm based game for teens and adults. In the game mode, you try to solve situations and it is based on real data on emergency situations. Companies use lots of technologies that people don’t know about it. Our game has that data and is very educative and lets you know about all the new things.”
Jamie Dawson explained, “It’s a simple way to prepare and act for disasters. It has an emergency mode that acts as a dispatcher for people who don’t have access to the internet. The game mode is a choose your own adventure, such as I’m on the 4th floor and there is a fire, where you are given information on how to get out. The game mode is for preparation and the emergency is mode is for real-time. IBM Watson’s technology has a tone analyzer that can tell from the tone of your voice if you are freaking out and will go from the game and straight into emergency mode.”
Want to Accept the Call for Code Challenge?
It’s not too late to submit your ideas on the best tech solutions to improve natural disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. You formally enter the Call for Code competition when you submit your solution between March 25 and July 29, 2019. You can find more information about joining the 2019 Challenge Community here.