NYC Techies Volunteer to Get Businesses Back Up Post-Sandy

11/5/12Follow @cathyarnst

Thousands of New York City residents are volunteering to help the victims of last week’s Hurricane Sandy by digging out debris from flooded homes, providing hot meals, and donating supplies. But there is also a very specialized volunteer effort, engineered by the city’s huge tech community—they are volunteering their skills to help small businesses, non-profits, schools, and even polling places get up and running again following the catastrophic damage wrought by the storm.

Within two days of the storm hitting New York on Monday, NY Tech Meetup, which has 28,000 members, put out the call for technology professionals who can help restore access to networks, databases, and other critical technology. “We had over 500 members raise their hands almost immediately,” NY Tech Meetup managing director Jessica Lawrence told me. “We are working in a really hyper-local way, helping people to get reconnected and back in business.” She says the first few requests were from people from other relief agencies that needed technical help, and groups that needed office space because theirs was flooded or inaccessible.

NY Tech Meetup is planning a hackathon for this coming weekend to develop on-line solutions to the technological needs of businesses and other organizations whose operations were damaged by the storm, and has set up a website, NY Tech Responds, to connect those who need help with techies who have the appropriate skills. Volunteers also created a Facebook page, SandyBaggers,  to mobilize and coordinate grassroots relief efforts. The page carries such critical information as what supplies are needed in hard hit neighborhoods and the locations of charging stations set up around the city for people still without power.

Some of the most popular neighborhoods for locating startups in the New York area were hard hit by flooding, including the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, Long Island City in Queens, Hoboken, NJ, and Chelsea, Tribeca, and the lower east side in Manhattan. Plus all of Manhattan below 30th Street was without electricity for as long as six days after the storm hit last Monday. Brooklyn Bridge Ventures  CEO Charlie O’Donnell created the hashtag #sandycoworking on Twitter to help connect people who need workspace to those who have some room to spare, while the co-working space New Work City  posted a Crowdmap with over 70 available workspaces listed, making it easy for anyone to add or find available space.

New Work City founder Tony Bacigalupo wrote in his blog that existing spaces unaffected by the storm like Secret Clubhouse, Bitmap, Bat Haus, and AlleyNYC have already opened their offices to displaced workers. He said he was able to point several displaced teams to workspace within “biking distance,” an important consideration given that the subways were not running all of last week in most of the city and gasoline is still scarce. “I don’t know the precise scale of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the economic impact of Sandy on small businesses was mitigated by the fact that a network of coworking communities popped up almost instantly to give people a place to maintain continuity,” Bacigalupo wrote.

Volunteers with technology skills can sign up by completing the online form posted at http://bit.ly/hurricanetechvolunteers, and those who are in need of help can sign up at http://bit.ly/hurricanetechhelp or phone in or text their request to 646-392-7353.

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