Houston—Houston tech entrepreneur Shailendra Sinhasane spent the weekend reading desperate social media posts from people asking to be rescued from the rising floodwaters caused by Hurricane Harvey.
“There were people on Facebook saying they are ready with their trucks to help, saying we have boats, but with social media posts, we had no idea who had been rescued,” says Sinhasane, who is CEO of Houston mobile firm MobiSoft InfoTech. “There is no way to update those posts.”
So, he created an interactive map on Google, where those who need help can post their location and phone number. That information is shared with an assortment of private groups, which have members with boats ready to bring people to dry ground. As people are rescued, Sinhasane is urging people to remove their pin, which marks their address on the map.
He estimates that the map, which is being shared via social media, has helped 150 people get rescued since it first went live Sunday at 9 pm. “I am safe. The electricity is still there for me,” says Sinhasane, who lives near the Galleria shopping center in Houston. “So I can help.”
Harvey first hit the Gulf Coast on Friday, 200 miles south of Houston in Corpus Christi, TX, but it has lingered long after landfall, dumping an estimated 30 inches of rain on the Houston area as of Monday morning, according to The Weather Channel. Greater Houston and Harris County spread across 1,700-plus square miles that are home to about 6.5 million people. With the hurricane continuing to produce bands of rainstorms, many parts of Houston are deluged with floodwaters. Areas that have been dry over the weekend are now flooded due to area creeks overflowing their banks.
There have been about 56,000 calls to 911 emergency services in the Houston area since Friday, according to news reports.
Sinhasane says he is sharing this information with the Cajun Navy as well as other private-citizen groups who are out trying to help the Coast Guard and other governmental organizations rescue those who are trapped in their homes. Those groups are communicating using Zello, an app that essentially allows walkie-talkie style communication on a smartphone. It is often used in situations where traditional communication is difficult.
“Right now they are manually entering that [map] data into the Zello app,” Sinhasane says of those groups. “I just facilitated the map and [am] helping with the pins at this point.”
Sinhasane contacted me about the map, which I shared on social media. (I live south of Houston and am fortunate to be dry and still connected to power.) My tweet reached the account of Texas Storm Chasers (@TXstormchasers), which has more than 200,000 followers, and had been looking for maps like this. “Crowd-sourced maps and lists have allowed various volunteer groups to locate and rescue many individuals during this event,” they responded to my tweet. “Quite helpful!”