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There are many problems that persistently arise during emergencies, problems that have simple solutions. One such problem is communication. We stepped into the shoes of two of the many important people during an emergency: the mayor and the citizen. As a mayor, you want to ensure your people get out quickly and safely. _ What do you need? _ A simple way to communicate with the community in a fast effective way. As a citizen, you are worried about yourself, but also your friends and family in the area and vice versa. _ What do you need? _ A simple way to communicate with your immediate friends and family. Based on how we as citizens, mayors, emergency workers, and more would react in the event of a disaster and what _we_would need, we decided to create a simple effective communication software to fill those gaps.
What does it do?
In the event of an emergency, those impacted and their emergency contacts are immediately notified and presented with specific instructions on what actions to take next. With a simple click of a button, users can let all their emergency contacts know that they are safe, where they are, and what they are going to do next. Similarly, their emergency contacts can reach them with a single click of a button. On the flip side, local government officials can send out announcements to inform their community on what's going on, what's to do next, what routes to take, and more. More importantly, the app allows for real-time emergency GPS tracking of each phone with the EVAC app, and all that data is viewable via the app by local officials. They can use this data to track which way people are evacuating and have an idea of how many people are still in need of help. Additional features address individual needs such as where the nearest hospital is, where the nearest evacuation shelter is, and more.
How are we going to build this?
We plan to build this using a networking system that will connect users with one another, allowing for communication functionality through currently available software such as WebSockets. An algorithm can be used to recognize a unique emergency text from the national or state government that will activate the emergency mode on the app. GPS tracking built into phones will support the app and provide real-time data and data analytics as well as local resources. Data sets that are updated regularly such as those on data.gov will be imported to locate designated emergency centers and resources with backup generators. Maps will be downloaded and updated periodically to accommodate in case users lose connection to internet, cell towers, or GPS.
Challenges along the way?
- We have received a lot of feedback from the mentors and it has taken us in many directions. After speaking with them, we had many new features and ideas that could not all be practically loaded onto one app. Thus, we had to cut down on our feature list and streamline our app, focusing on the most significant and impactful ones.
- We've thought about many potential technical complications such as an overloaded bandwidth during emergencies that would hinder many people from accessing the internet. Sometimes, we were able to find alternative solutions to these issues and other times, we just had to accept that this is an issue that has always been complicated and that we will just have to work with it.
- At times we lost focus of what exactly was the problem we were solving; either we were trying to solve many problems at once or we were straying from the provided themes. However, once we took a step back and understood what our app was doing, we could clearly see that our focus was on communication.
Our greatest accomplishment this past weekend was coming up with a solid model for our communication app!
What we learned?
- How to give a great presentation
- How to use customer feedback to refine our product
- How to address the various needs of different people
- How to take in and process lots of contradicting advice from people
What's next for EVAC?
In the short-term, we hope to increase app usage by working with local and state governments to incentivize citizens to download the app and recognize its importance. In the long-term, we want to work with companies like Google and Apple to permanently add this emergency notification system as a feature on their devices and make it protocol for phone companies to offer and encourage emergency preparedness.