Hackers Go Global for Disaster Relief Efforts

June 4, 2010
By Rachel Eisenhower

Over the next two days, hackers from across the globe will team up on nearly every continent for the second Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) event aimed at finding solutions to real-world problems caused by natural disasters. It's a 48-hour marathon of competitive computer coding with the best and brightest developers in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; Nairobi, Kenya; London; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Fueled by the success of the first "Hackathon" held in November 2009 in Mountain View, California (SIGNAL coverage), coordinators determined it was time to tap into the global community of tech experts. The progressive initiative is backed by an unlikely group of partners: Google, Microsoft, NASA, Yahoo! and the World Bank.

Hackers will focus on finding creative solutions to real emergency response issues submitted by organizations and companies in the field. Teams will be formed "ad hoc depending on what people are passionate about," said Patrick Svenburg, senior manager, developer and platform evangelism, Microsoft Federal. "All the solutions are on an open source license, which is the only way to have developers work together" while keeping the information public for anyone to work with, he said.

With 200 registered attendees, Svenburg called the response to this year's event tremendous and said it shows a desire from developers to use their skills and time for a noble cause, especially following the earthquakes in Haiti and Santiago and the oil spill threatening the Gulf Coast. The project allows developers to make a positive impact, and "if nothing else, we can reclaim the term hacker," said Svenburg, which can apply to someone finding innovative software solutions but commonly refers to someone breaking into a computer system.

Solutions prepared over the next two days will serve as a starting point for developers who will continue to tweak and perfect the programs even after the event ends. The work never stops, said Svenburg, but the impact of RHoK can be felt immediately. After last year's event, a solution created to help connect friends and family members with people stranded by disasters was adopted by the World Bank and implemented just a few months later in Haiti. "We're trying to be proactive-not just reacting to the next crisis but getting out in front of it," Svenburg explained.

The event kicks off tonight with a keynote reception at the U.S. State Department and ends with an awards ceremony and demonstration of the winning hacks on Sunday.

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