WASHINGTON – It was a sunny day in Washington to receive recognition for a program to save lives during tornadoes. Tulsa,Okla.,resident,Scott Phillips,43,was recognized at the White House Tuesday for Code for Tulsa’s work to improve disaster relief after the fatal Moore,Okla.,tornado in May.
The Champions of Change ceremony recognizes technological achievements that have positive impact on individuals and government. Phillips,representing Code for Tulsa,was one of 13 organizations recognized Tuesday by Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.
“When I walked into the White House and kind of saw the columns and all those fun things,I had to stop and grab my camera and take a few pictures,because it was pretty cool,” Phillips said.
Phillips said Code for Tulsa’s success is a team effort,and the recognition shows how hard his team has worked.
“We’ve known that we’ve been doing amazing things,but it’s cool to have that recognition,to help share that with the rest of the world and the rest of the community,” he said.
What Phillips did is called civic hacking,or using technology to connect and improve communities.
Code for Tulsa,a chapter of Code for America,created an app that allows emergency response teams to move more quickly. The app has a map that marks digital X’s on a online representations of buildings that have been searched after disasters. Phillips said this is more efficient than the old method of manually spray-painting X’s on buildings,as some damage is so bad,homeowners can no longer recognize their own streets.
“All the street signs are gone,all the trees are gone. Any geographic references that people are used to dealing with are often completely gone. So when it’s time for a team to not only X where they’re standing but also report that to the base of operations,it’s almost impossible,” he said.
Code for Tulsa had already been planning to hold a civic hacking marathon in June,but after the tornado hit Moore in May,Phillips and his team decided to use their resources to help the victims of disaster.
“It was almost pure serendipity that we were in the right place at the right time to develop a toolset that can be impactful on a federal and national basis,” he said.
Phillips said the best part about the recognition is being able to show how civic hacking can help communities like Moore. He said that he wished the honor could have come under better circumstances.
“It is a little bit bittersweet because in an ideal world,if there’d been a project that we could be recognized for that didn’t deal with suffering. That clearly could have been a better opportunity,but this one came along and we were able to help out where we could,” Phillips said.
Reach Caleigh Bourgeois at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.