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Hacking wildfires

Emily Wright and Joe Merante

Code for America

When 2012 Code For America Fellows, Emily Wright and Joe Merante came to Austin they had a mission, a grand mission. As Emily describes it, "We were charged with this mission like, 'We're going to fix things!' Then you walk into City Hall and you're like, 'Wow, these people are really good at what they do, they're really passionate.'" Emily and Joe quickly realized how complicated it is to run a city and local government, but also knew that they didn't have to understand all the ins and outs of Austin's government to make a difference. They used their skills in web design and development to help the City of Austin with a problem that some citizens were all-too familiar with--wildfires.

Preventing Wildfires with Code

Austin has notoriously dry summers, creating the perfect conditions for wildfires to grow out of control and spread rapidly. The Austin Fire Department works incredibly hard to contain and put out these fires, but being prepared for the inevitable is key. Working closely with Austin Fire Department and the City of Austin, Emily and Joe built, a tool that allows homeowners to get all the information they need to prepare for wildfires.

Using, homeowners can look up the risk level of their location, humidity, windspeed and direction, and find a list of tasks that will help reduce the likelihood of wildfire damage. On the high alert days, users will receive updates via Twilio SMS reminding them about potential fires. The app is open source so all communities can stay prepared and stay safe.

Making a Difference in Austin launched in July of 2012 and in just five months the app has over 800 registered users not to mention 725 “wildfire preparedness tasks” marked as completed. Austin residents are getting educated and prepared when it comes to wildfires in their communities including reaching out to wildfire experts for customized assistance via the app. It’s worked so well that over a dozen cities reached out to Joe and Emily to bring to their locations. Since creating and completing their Code For America fellowship, both Emily and Joe are still involved in civic minded tech. Emily works for, a startup that helps organize volunteer efforts, donations and distribution of information for those recovering from disaster. Joe is working on his own projects, and writing about everything from music copyright law to code tricks on his blog.

Check out and see how you can prevent wildfires

Educate yourself on the risk levels of your location, humidity, windspeed and direction.