A major need that emerged in the aftermath of the destructive superstorm was shelter. Emergency responders sought more beds, from any source. Apartment rental site airbnb, a business designed to deliver value from under-used housing, came forward as one creative solution to shelter. The company first waived its fees for displaced residents, and soon coordinated donated room listings from other New Yorkers. This required reconfiguring airbnb’s billing system to accept donated rooms, as well as coordination with FEMA to modify the federal agency’s reimbursement policy to accept email receipts in lieu of formal leases. Figuring all of these complications out on the fly during the crisis was not ideal, but now the systems are in place to support similar efforts the next time flexible urban shelter accommodations arise as a major need.
Leaders of New York’s technology startup community also made possible the donation of a different kind of shelter: commercial real estate. Noel Hidalgo launched the Sandy Coworking Map to coordinate donations of desk and office space and enjoy, once again, wifi, coffee, electricity, and a professional work environment. While not as critical a need as basic emergency shelter, the employees at many startups, companies, and NGOs who were unable to resume their work for weeks after the storm were able to resume their livelihoods and economic productivity sooner as a result of this project. The map became a central clearinghouse for this type of aid, and, in a partnership that could point towards a future where formal and mutual aid systems support one another, the NYC Economic Committee began verifying offices and listing additional space on the map. Digital volunteers led the charge and reacted to a community need, and the formal city agency supported and improved the effort.
Figure 3.5: NY Tech Meetup’s Sandy Coworking Map lists donated office space
These projects seek to secure basic aid for the affected population directly, rather than routing money through formal aid actors. Establishing channels for this direct aid to flow can certainly approach megawork, whether it’s processing hundreds of Amazon.com orders or running a successful Crowdmap. Once such supply chains are in place, though, other members of the public can contribute in relatively lightweight ways like making an Amazon purchase.