AccraFloods

accra suburb flooded
Accra suburb flooded, picture taken in 2006. Photo Credit | Stig Nygaard, Flickr

I built AccraFloods as an emergency response website following the fatal floods which occurred in Ghana on June 3, 2015. The website has emergency numbers, a form to report missing persons, and a social media timeline for visitors to be abreast of information.

Background

Ghana suffered a devastating flood and gas explosion on 3rd June 2015. Coincidentally, the explosion happened in a dense area where the flood torrent was at its peak. Some persons who had taken shelter at a gas station ended up as victims of the explosion. Together, both flood and explosion fatalities were more than 200.

I happened to be up that night those events happened. Though the explosion happened about 25 miles away from me, I had taken a Twitter break when I saw tweets of it. I thought to do something. I stayed up that night, working through a Rails Pinterest clone tutorial, brushing up the little Rails I had forgotten, to help me build a solution. In the end, the AccraFloods website helped to report missing persons, see news items about flood and explosion relief efforts, show some social media feed based on hashtags, and show some emergency numbers for folks to reach out.

After having completed sometime in the morning, I sent out the link to both my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and the response was overwhelming. I ended up with about 1000 visits and several people reported missing on the website within that 1st week, after which — obviously — the traffic went back down again.

It was quite a learning experience, to be able to understand how a solution that simple could be useful to a few people.

I wouldn’t call it an elegant solution, but it was just what people needed to keep informed. If I had the opportunity and time, I would be willing to build a disaster management web app of a sort to help in such dire times.

I was excited to be able to contribute in such a way.

Learnings

  • Sometimes, you just have one shot. Since this was a life-related project, especially with reporting missing persons, I had to be sure everything worked great, before I could go public about it. Also, receiving relevant information about events was helpful. It was critical to be credible, although not an official source of information.
  • There’s always an opportunity to make a difference. This wasn’t a project I thought of for 2 months, or 3 years. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that just stared at me in the face, to take an action, and I was glad I did. There are many opportunities that will show up in our line of work, whether as designers, developers, etc. and we can always make a difference.
  • Ship often. I interpret this in 2 ways. If I had shipped often, I wouldn’t have had to go through that tutorial to get a simple CRUD app up, and that would have actually reduced my development time. I also interpret ship often as relating to how often you release updates to projects. Even though I reviewed the work before the first deployment, it was always good to come back and make simple fixes, whether it was about presenting information or receiving data from visitors.

Obviously, this was a simple quick one-man project, and the website is still up now, although it occasionally goes to sleep due to inactivity. It’s amazing how Pinterest could be of use to flood victims in Accra. Amazing.