Help Me Help Uses Crowdsourcing To Make Disaster Response More Efficient

Help Me Help wants to make it easier for emergency responders to get a full picture of the situation after a disaster happens. The service combines crowdsourcing, a smartphone app and web service that allows trained professionals and civilians to mark up a map in real time with the location and photos of downed power lines, damaged structures, fires, road obstructions and other hazards.

Help Me Help was developed by a group of students at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. Team Poli’Ahu, as the group calls itself, will represent the U.S. in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup student technology competition in St. Petersburg, Russia, next week.


The original idea behind the project was to track invasive species in a number of Hawaiian state and national parks. As Help Me Help’s Mike Purvis told me last month, the team quickly decided that it could also apply the technology it developed for this project to a larger range of problems.

wp_ss_20130501_0001The team believes that its service can provide the situational awareness to help emergency responders respond more efficiently when there are disasters. Currently, organizations like the Civil Defense in Hawaii often still track this data by using paper maps, magnets and dry-erase boards. Currently, disaster reports are often fragmented and distributed across many forms of media, the team says.

Besides the mobile app, Help Me Help can also scrape content from Twitter into its database, which will make it even easier for people to submit updates.

As the team plans to somewhat customize the service for its clients, the customers can decide on whether they want to allow anybody to submit information or if they just want to restrict the ability to add content to a set of trusted and verified submitters.

Imagine Cup 2013

Help Me Help will present its service during the Imagine Cup finals next week. In total, Microsoft and its partners are making about $1 million in prizes available to the students that made it into the finals. In total, 69 countries will be represented at the event and the awards ceremony on Thursday July 11 will be hosted by Doctor Who’s Matt Smith.