Inspiration- In 2018, an intense storm in the Ellicott City area dropped a large, abnormal amount of rainfall that gathered on impervious surfaces, creating a flash flood. Cars were swept down this new river that was once a road, the structural foundations of businesses were slammed into rubble, and homes were completely destroyed with their remnants being washed down stream. We were personnel affected by this disaster when some of our friends and family lost their homes. On social media, we saw a few people posting statuses saying that they were opening their homes to those in need, but the posts were hard to find among the torrent of news stories, well wishes, and photos of the disaster. We thought that there had to be a better way; we wanted to make a platform for those in our community who wanted to open their homes, where they could directly communicate their message to those in need and simplify the home finding process for victims.
As we started designing our app, we conducted research and realized the international implications of the platform we were creating. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 14 million people are displaced each year by natural disasters. Relief organizations, such as the Red Cross and Relief International, do not have enough resources to provide for every victim. We believe that the only way to solve this problem, one that had so drastically impacted our area and continues to impact societies around the world, was to create an app that mobilized communities on a grassroots level to ensure the maximization of resources and provide setter to as many individuals as possible.
What it does- Safe Haven is an IOS based app that is designed to provide safe, comfortable temporary homes through crowdsourced volunteers for people who have been displaced by natural disasters. The goal is to reduce the difficulties that families and individuals face in the aftermath of these tragedies by allowing volunteers to open up their homes to help those in need and by matching these homes with the victims.
When the app initially opens, the user has two options: sign in or sign up. Sign in or sign up is based on email to ensure user identity and security using Firebase (Google Cloud Platform). The user is then directed to the home page, where there can choose between four different options.
The first option is an app guide, which leads to a screen explaining the usage of and the purpose of the app. The next option is “Find a Haven.” If the user is in need of a home, they can select this button which will redirect them to a map with the relative location of available homes with a radius of their present location. By clicking on the relative location marker of an available home, the user can retrieve the contact information of a specific haven near them. Using the app, the user can message the homeowner to request a home and discuss terms of their stay. The address can only be given by the homeowners themselves to ensure the safety of the users.
Another option on the home screen is “Register a Haven.” If a user is willing to offer their home, they can register their house by clicking on this button. The user will then be asked to input their name, phone number, address, the number of occupants they can house, and the number of days they can offer their home. The inputted data will be stored in a secure backend Airtable, with the user’s address and other private information only being given out with the direct and explicit consent of the homeowner.
The last option is a donate button which can be used to give money to Safe Haven’s cause. When users click on this button, they will be redirected to a GoFundMe page where they can easily make a contribution to help provide resources including food, water, and first aid essentials to affected areas.
How we built it- We built the app by combining web api, google cloud platform (Firebase), Airtable, and web api, while coding through Thunkable with loops, conditionals, user authentication, and data calling. We overcame our problems by asking for help, persisting, and working off of our team's strengths.
Challenges we ran into- A major difficulty we faced when creating the app were connecting the location feature to the map and having the map plot the relative location (rather than exact address) of users who input the address of their home, which was internally converted into coordinates of latitude and longitude. Our first solution used Firebase, which couldn’t complete all the functions relating to relative location, so we had to switch over to a combination of Firebase and Airtable (a spreadsheet database hybrid). Using this Fire-Air hybrid, we found the implementation of our platform to be much easier as we could retrieve information by referring to a specific cell within our “spreadsheet database” linked with user ID.
Armed with this new tool, we finally solved the problem by retrieving the user data from the secure database through the usage of a loop and WebAPI that gathered the name and host preferences to pair with the retrieved relative location (real location plus "distorting function"). This allowed the map to display retrieved information from the API and database to plot map markers in the appropriate location. When the map marker is clicked, the homeowner’s contact information will be displayed by a function calling the information, allowing the home finder to contact the homeowner at their discretion.