Web applications assisting with bushfire relief
Thu, Feb 12 2009

By Jonathan Oxer It's been a while since the last eBusiness News and now with so many people dead, injured, displaced, or bereaved by the bushfire disaster here in Australia it hardly seems the time to be trumpeting the benefits of the latest online marketing techniques. If you or your family have been impacted by the disaster then please accept the sympathies of everyone here at IVT. For those overseas who may not have heard the news, the last week has seen the biggest natural disaster in Australian history with bushfires burning out at least 3,000 square kilometres of land, destroying numerous towns and resulting in, at last count, 181 deaths with thousands more left without homes. The fear is that number is set to climb steeply as recovery teams work their way through the devastated areas. To put the scale of the disaster into perspective, that puts the death toll approximately on par (per capita) with what the United States experienced in the attacks of 9/11. This is loss of life and property on an immense scale and we will no doubt feel the repercussions of it for years to come. It seems everyone knows somebody who has been affected in some way: right here at IVT we have staff who have lost family members so it's not just theoretical for us. It's very personal. So this eBusiness News is a little bit different. It's a plea for help, and also a story of how a group of developers got together to use their skills to help out in a way only they could. One of the biggest short-term problems being faced by survivors of the disaster is the simple question of where to live. Temporary shelters have been put in place and tent cities have sprung up to give people a place to catch some sleep over the coming hours and days, but looking ahead there is a medium-term requirement for actual housing: somewhere people can stay with running water, and showers, and kitchen facilities, and everything else we take for granted. With thousands of people displaced, many of them with no possessions other than the clothes on their back, it's a serious problem that has to be resolved very rapidly. So a good friend of mine, Ben Balbo, got together with some workmates and over the space of a couple of days they worked around the clock to build an online service to assist with placing victims into short-term accommodation, matching those in need with people who have a spare bedroom or holiday house or even just a mattress on the floor and are willing to open their homes up to help those in need. The service is called Australian Bushfire Housing Assistance, and it's accessible online right now at bushfirehousing.org. This is a brilliant example of solving an unexpected information-sharing problem using Internet technologies. Last week the need didn't exist, and neither did the Bushfire Housing website. With the need came the solution, created very rapidly to suit the specific requirements of the situation. So I encourage you to spread the word about the site: the more people who know about it, the more likely it will be that people displaced by the fires will be able to find themselves somewhere to stay while they work through their grief and start thinking about how to begin rebuilding their lives. Think also about other ways to assist. There are obvious needs such as cash donations (through well-known charities only though - there have been reports of scammers taking advantage of the disaster by running false collection drives) and blood donations but there are also needs that most people won't even think of such as how to get feed and medical assistance to the tens of thousands of animals (pets, stock, and wildlife) that have been impacted. This is an ongoing disaster with ongoing needs, so please, I encourage you to contribute in any way you can.