How Your Life May Be Saved When the Next Natural Disaster Strikes

A $200,000 prize is on the line for engineers who come up with the next idea that may save your life


The world witnessed a slew of natural disasters over the course of 2018 — from an earthquake and tsunami that devastated Indonesia, a series of massive wildfires that burned large portions of California, to a record-breaking hurricane that destroyed many towns along Florida’s Gulf Coast at the start of October.

While it may be difficult to predict when many of these disasters will occur, one thing we can do is prepare for them the best we can, and that’s why a new initiative has called on engineers to create technology that will help save lives during the next large-scale emergency.

The program, called Call for Code, asked engineers to submit working ideas that may become pivotal tools for emergency preparedness and relief. Essentially, they want to “outthink” natural disasters.

“We’ve had literally hundreds of thousands of developers across the world submitting code,” Angel Diaz, Vice President of Developer Technology, Open Source & Advocacy at IBM — who helped to organize the event along with its creator, entrepreneur David Clark, and a collection of other companies — tells PEOPLE.

Whichever group earns the grand prize will get $200,000 placed toward having their idea turned into reality.

Hurricane Michael Impact After Storm Lashes Florida With Wind Speeds Among Highest In History
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thousands of entries were sent in, with many unique ideas. One team from Puerto Rico came up with a design that would use a series of symbols that residents could use to alert an A.I.-powered drone to what they needed (for example, water, food, medical attention). That drone would relay the information to emergency services. They came up with the project after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year.

Another plan saw a group from New York create a program that would scan social media for the keywords people were using in relation to their location. The application would pick up on these words (like “food” or “water”) and be able to distinguish groups of people who were in need of relevant supplies. This would be useful for people who are trapped in their homes due to flooding or debris-filled roadways.

The efforts of these engineers who have participated in Call for Code aren’t spurred on by a desire to become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. In fact, the top 10 projects will have their code made open source, Diaz says — meaning it will be made public so that any coder who has an idea on how to improve upon it can do so, free of charge.

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There are nearly 50 people still unaccounted for following Hurricane Michael’s destruction after it made landfall in Florida last week as a Category 4 storm.

At least 18 people have died, including three in North Carolina, eight in Florida, six in Virginia and one in Georgia, according to the Weather Channel. Among those, one confirmed death was reported in Mexico Beach, according to ABC.

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Just a month before Michael, Hurricane Florence caused devastating floods across the Carolinas, and 42 deaths have been attributed to the storm.

An idea born during the Call For Code initiative may very well help to save lives in a future hurricane response.

“What’s exciting about this, and unique, is that the way solutions will be deployed, for real, and will make a difference. And that’s huge,” Diaz says. “The idea is to try to do things that would be really inspiring for people, and that’s why we got so many people involved.”

A team of judges will announce the winners on October 29 in San Francisco.

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