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How Tech Companies are Helping Houston after Hurricane Harvey

The latest technologies, and the companies behind them, have become an invaluable resource for victims by offering services, products and support.

Now that the water is receding, Houston is grappling with cleaning up the mess made by last week’s Category 4 hurricane, Harvey. The hurricane poured more than a trillion gallons of water into the city and forced millions of people to retreat to shelters. The latest technologies, and the companies behind them, have become an invaluable resource for victims by offering services, products and support. Already we’ve seen plenty of tech’s biggest names step up:

Google's map showed traffic data, available shelters and other info

Google: The world’s largest search engine created a specialized map showing available shelters and evacuation resources across Texas during the storm. The map showed users which shelters still have space, as well as other information like what resources they offer and if they allow pets. Now, the map highlights traffic incidents, road closures and other data.

Facebook: Once again, the company’s Safety Check program is a way for people to tell friends they’re safe. Houston natives are also using this way to post, reach out and communicate with other victims and volunteers, in order to find supplies such as clothes or food, to alert people to power outages or downed trees, or keep victims up to date about shelters.

Fasten and Other Ridesharing Apps: To encourage people to donate, the Austin-based ridesharing service offered free rides Wednesday to and from the Community Survivor Donation Drive, and then rides to blood banks on Friday. Ride Austin, another city-based ridesharing app, created a Round Up program to raise money for the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund from the Greater Houston Community Foundation.

When Harvey hit, Uber also announced it would give displaced families free rides back and forth from shelters, as well as donate $300,000 of “rides, food and relief” to victims. Meanwhile, Lyft’s Round Up & Donate feature allows riders to easily donate to the cause.

Zello: Volunteers have turned to this free walkie-talkie app to help communicate with each other more easily and reliably. The Cajun Navy, a volunteer rescue group, used the app to create private channels, send voice messages and find those in need. To get rescued, many stranded Houston citizens used the app to reach out to the group and give them their location. 

Allstate Insurance: The insurance company used a fleet of drones to properly address damages for insurance claims, resulting in safer, speedier claims. Similar to other emergency situations, drones are a great tool for first-responders to gather information and scout out hard-to-reach locations. While the Federal Aviation Administration banned private drone flights to clear the skies for pilots and helicopters, they did authorize 43 drone operators to assist the news organizations covering Harvey, reported USA Today. They hope to make at least 1,000 flights in the damaged area, according to Fortune. Drones take roughly five minutes to collect data on a home’s damages and can process three houses in an hour, compared to three houses processed in a day using conventional methods without drones.

Airbnb and Other Homesharing Apps: Airbnb opened up its “Urgent Accommodation” page to let displaced families find others offering free housing. So far, more than 550 users have offered their homes for free to flooding victims. Other home sharing companies also offered similar possibilities, such as Homeaway and VRBO. “As a Texas-based company, we know many people are impacted by Hurricane Harvey. We hope you & your family are safe & your home is undamaged,” VRBO tweeted. “If you own/manage a property in the affected area and your home cannot be rented, we are ready to help.”

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Jeremy Snow