Like many in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Denise Spell witnessed confusion in the storm’s aftermath among her neighbors about where to find gas, an open grocery store or just a place to plug in a phone.
For the longtime Ridgewood resident, with a background in engineering and technology, the experience sparked the idea for CurrantNOW, a new mobile app designed to help spread information in disaster situations.
“It really did spring from my personal experience from Sandy,” Spell said. “And I’ve learned a lot in the last year talking to emergency offices, mayors and utility companies, seeing what the outstanding issues are that we can address with the app.”
A year since the storm tore through New Jersey, emergency management officials have emphasized the importance of information in preparing for the next disaster, particularly in the form of emergency alerts and education on preparedness.
“I think that Hurricane Sandy and some of the other storms we’ve had in recent history have highlighted the need for a better way to distribute information to the public,” Spell said. “You can sign up for different emergency alerts, but there isn’t any sort of centralized hub for communications after storms, and I think that’s one of the challenges we’re trying to solve.”
The app, in design since the summer by Spell and six other volunteers at Currant, Inc., works with crowd-sourced information. In an emergency, users can upload information on where necessities, like gas stations and supermarkets, are open. They can also report downed trees, road closures and failing traffic signals.
On the other end of the information stream, the designers hope users can employ the information to navigate the aftermath of a storm, and verify the accuracy of posts to ensure that the app stays up to date in real time. Spell also hopes to partner with municipalities and utility companies interested in using the app to aid in their responses to emergencies.
“It’s a utility app,” she said. “You take it out when you need it, and it’s always good to have it in your pocket so you have it there when the emergency strikes.”
Spell is hoping to match the crowd-sourced information with crowd-sourced funding, launching a Kickstarter campaign. If successful, she said, Currant can launch the app as a free download for users.
Having it in the hands of as many people as possible, she said, is important to make sure its loaded with valuable information.
“It was important to me to make this a free download,” she said. “We should not charge people for needing help. That is why this Kickstarter campaign is so critical. If we are successful, we can make this app available to everyone for free.”
The goal of the Kickstarter campaign is $15,000, with a deadline of Dec. 25. The campaign had already raised more than $4,000 with three weeks left in the funding push.
Spell said the app will initially be promoted regionally, but that she hopes it can expand to any area hard-hit by natural disasters.
“They’re happening everywhere, and they’re happening more frequently,” she said. “So we think an app like this could be really useful.”