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New York City's New "Code Corps," A Volunteer Force of Techies in Disaster Response

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, February 14 2013

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new initiative called Code Corps in his State of the City address today, billed as the country's first municipal program that brings volunteer technologists to bear on city government's emergency and disaster recovery needs.

Through Code Corps, techies in the city can volunteer their time to build digital tools for disaster situations. Vetted volunteers will be expected to work on new databases, build maps on city data, pull together web and mobile applications and help analyze the impact of a disaster, according to an overview on the NYC Digital web page.

"Potential projects include multimedia on-site reporting for emergency situations, streamlined systems for reporting downed trees and apps to better allocate volunteers on the go," according to a press statement.

NYC Digital and the Mayor’s Office of Policy and Strategic Planning launched Code Corps to address needs that became evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, drawing on feedback from the city's technology community, according to the website.

The city has also created an advisory committee of data scientists, developers and experts from across city government, the Data Advisory and Research Taskforce.

NYC Digital co-chairs the committee with Mike Flowers, director of the City's Policy and Strategic Planning Analytics Team, along with representatives from the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, the NYPD and other agencies, according to Jake Goldman, director of external affairs in the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment.

The idea is to use public-private partnerships to bring more technology resources to bear in a disaster, without straining the city's budget.

Before joining, in advance of any disaster situation, volunteers from participating organizations will be vetted and organized based on their different skillsets and levels of experience.

Founding partners are software company 10gen, the NYC brigade of Code for America, Codecademy, the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering at Columbia University, Cornell Tech, Etsy, General Assembly, data prediction platform Kaggle, New York Tech Meetup, the Department of Computer Science at NYU, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association of NYU-Poly, online designer clothes rental company Rent the Runway, online food delivery company Seamless, community driven disaster relief non-profit Sparkrelief and Twitter. In addition to staff expertise, partners are also donating technical equipment, physical space and computational support.

Other organizations that wish to join Code Corps must be based in or have an office in New York City, have experience with civic or crisis-based projects, have experience with developing products or services for a large-scale audience, help select volunteers and allow them to contribute 20 percent of their work time to the project and have no expectation of future employment or contracts with the City of New York as a result of their participation.

Last week, New York City was promoting the use of its PlowNYC platform to track the progress of plowed streets during snowstorm Nemo. Developer Derek Watkins used the data from the city's Department of Sanitation to visualize the clearing of snow over 24 hours.

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