UK flood victims receive helping hand from tech community

Dark clouds

The Government is being urged to put its money where its mouth is when supporting software developers who've created apps to help out UK flood victims.

More than 200 developers from the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft took part in a "hackathon" over the weekend to create apps and digital services to benefit communities hit by the recent run of severe weather and floods in the UK.

During the event, which took place at Tech City in East London, developers were given access to the UK's flood data to help hone their offerings, before pitching them to a Cabinet Office judging panel.

The funding of a good app should not cost more than a couple of MP's biscuit expenses claims for a couple of days.

A total of 16 teams took part and, once the pitching part of the process was over, a shortlist of eight of the "most useful" offerings was drawn up.

They included Don't Panic, a system that lets people without web access request help or find out local information, and UKFloodAlerts, which sends out SMS text messages telling people about burst river banks or power cuts.

Flood Feeder is an aggregation app that presents a feed of flood-related data, and was shortlisted alongside FludBud, a tool that uses Twitter to recruit and locate potential flood volunteers, and ViziCities. The latter can be used to visualise flood levels in 3D.

The remaining three shortlisted apps were MyState, a service that lets people at risk of flooding register for updates and request help if waters start to rise, Citizen Flood Journalism and Who Do I Call When I Have a Power Cut?

The former uses Twitter to locate people tweeting from flood-hit areas and asks them to take pictures and write descriptions that are then compiled into an information feed.

The latter puts people in touch with their Distribution Network Operator (DNO), allowing them to check when their power is off.

According to a Hackpad blog post, detailing all the entries, the Cabinet Office has agreed to "promote" these offerings across the country.

IT Pro contacted the Government press office to ask how the Cabinet Office intends to promote the services to flood victims in future, and if it will support their ongoing development.

At the time of publication, IT Pro was still awaiting a response.

Speaking to IT Pro, Clive Longbottom, service director at market watcher Quocirca, said the Government will need to embark on a major PR blitz to get the message out about these apps. Furthermore, a bit of financial backing might also go some way to spreading the word about them.

"The government needs to make sure the apps are linked from as many media sites as possible. The news sites and others should be on to this. If they aren't, then the government's PR flacks really do need to get on to them to cover what the apps do and where to get hold of them," Longbottom said.

"The funding of a good app should not cost more than a couple of MP's biscuit expenses claims for a couple of days. If these apps are worthwhile, throwing a few thousand pounds at the developer will not break the bank and should pay for itself in no time at all."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.