The impact of natural disasters is growing every year, making their prediction, prevention, mitigation and recovery even more difficult. People don’t know how to prepare, and those involved in recovery efforts struggle. Places like Puerto Rico are still suffering many months after disasters have demolished their infrastructure.

That’s why consulting firm the David Clark Cause (DCC) and IBM Corp. have partnered on the Call for Code initiative.

Call for Code is an annual worldwide initiative to develop apps that provide innovation to disaster relief workers using cloud, data, artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies. IBM alone is pouring $30 million USD over five years into the initiative and is also providing access to its Weather Company data.

Said the Call for Code website, “This multi-year global initiative is a rallying cry to developers to use their skills and mastery of the latest technologies, and to create new ones, to drive positive and long-lasting change across the world with their code.” It’s aiming for the world’s largest mobilization of developers.

The hope, said VP Development, Hybrid Cloud and Analytics, and IBM Canada Lab Director Steven Astorino, is to reach the world’s 22 million open source developers and engage them in creating solutions to help everyone from first responders to potential victims with software.

Since IBM employees aren’t eligible to participate in the competition, the company is holding its own internal contest, with prizes. Last week, close to 100 developers from the Markham IBM Lab took part in a day-long kickoff and brainstorming session.

All sorts of ideas are emerging. For example, Steve Martinelli, IBM Canada Developer Advocacy Lead and Engineering Manager, said that one of his teams is contemplating an app employing IBM Watson AI that could receive images from a drone or satellite during a flood and show rescuers exactly where people stranded on rooftops are located, which is not an easy task when landmarks are under water.

Another group, including IBM Canada senior technical staff member Stephanie Hazlewood, has identified another issue that many of us have struggled with: when you deal with a call centre, you end up answering the same questions over and over. That’s doubly frustrating in a disaster situation, so the team is considering ways of alleviating the problem in a way that’s secure and respectful of people’s privacy.

“There are lots of opportunities to innovate based on the building blocks available,” Hazlewood said. The teams have access not only to Weather Company data, but the IBM Cloud, IBM Blockchain, and dozens of Watson AI services.

Call for Code is enabled by program affiliates the Linux Foundation, Cloud Foundry, venture capital firm NEA, JS Foundation, and Node JS Foundation. Charitable sponsors are the American Red Cross and the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

Anyone who has reached the age of majority in their jurisdiction can sign up; for this year’s competition deadline is August 31, 2018, with prizes ($200,000 to the winner, $25,000 each to two runners up, as well as other perks such as help productizing their technology) to be awarded at the Global Prize Event and Concert on October 13th, the United Nations international Day for Disaster Reduction.

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