Random Hacks of Kindness (or RHoK) is a worldwide community that brings together expert volunteers in software engineering, design and crisis response. It focuses on developing practical open source solutions to disaster risk management and climate change adaptation challenges.
Twice a year these volunteers meet in cities around the world and tackle problems that have been submitted to the RHoK website. After a quick survey of the skills of the volunteers they discuss which problems might best be tackled with those skills and break into teams.
This year, I attended the event in Atlanta to put my PHP skills to use for a good cause. I joined a team that developed a Good Samaritan app that combined geo-location with some Twilio APIs to make it possible for people to request help for semi-emergencies like flat tires or plumbing issues. People in distress can press a button and “good samaritans” in the area get an SMS that describes the problem. If they respond to the SMS they get connected with the person in distress over the phone to find out more what they can do to help.
Another application that was built by a team in Atlanta (and later continued by a team in Toronto) was the Message Carrier application. This application will take messages from people isolated in a disaster
and keep them until it finds a data connection.
Blake Byrnes, founder of Atlanta startup LessMeeting describes MessageCarrier this way:
“You’re trying to send a message to your family that you’re ok on 9/11, when there’s no way to get through with your cell phone. The message would hop automatically from person to person in the crowd (using the algorithm we came up with), until it found someone who had a connection. If it happened to be you that found connectivity, you’d send them for people.”
At the end of each marathon development session the teams demonstrated their applications and voted for their favorites. In Atlanta, MessageCarrier won the day and was picked up later by a RHoK team in Toronto and extended even further.
Random Hacks of Kindness is a semi-annual event so it will be coming up again this year but you can sign up to submit ideas for hacks any time. If there isn’t an event near you, organize your own! It’s a great event for a great cause.