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Mindgrub developer assists with Help4OK website build in wake of Oklahoma tornado [VIDEO]

After a tornado ripped through Oklahoma City and its suburbs on May 20, developers at DrupalCon helped FEMA develop a mobile ride-sharing website for disaster victims.

Brian Andress.
This is a guest post from Mindgrub Technologies developer Brian Andress.

Mindgrub Technologies developer Brian Andress was attending DrupalCon 2013 in Portland when a tornado on May 20 killed dozens of people in and around Oklahoma City. Several developers from FEMA were attending DrupalCon and enlisted the help of volunteers to build Help4OK, a website that allowed Oklahomans to coordinate rides and provide sleeping arrangements for those displaced by the tornado. Andress was one of those volunteers.
During one of the first sessions on Tuesday at DrupalCon, the audience received an unexpected announcement: FEMA was looking for volunteer assistance from the Drupal community to build a site that would help the victims of the recent natural disaster in Oklahoma.
A few developers from FEMA were attending DrupalCon, and announced that they wanted to create a website similar to what Google had done with its “Person Finder” after the Boston Marathon bombing, but dedicated to the tornadoes in Oklahoma. They were announcing this because they wanted volunteers, and they would accept anyone who wanted to help. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn and to network, so I met up with them later that night.
Here is the original flier.
We started the meeting at around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and probably close to 50 people showed up (out of the 3,500 or so that were at DrupalCon). When I had to leave the group on Wednesday at 7 p.m. (at which point I had been up for more than 36 hours), there were fewer than 12 DrupalCon developers still working on it.
FEMA started the Tuesday meeting out by telling us that they really only had six requirements:

  • The site needs to be up in less than 24 hours.
  • The site needs to allow people to search for rides and post where they are.
  • The site needs to allow people to post that they are able to give rides.
  • The site needs to allow people to search for places to stay.
  • The site needs to allow people to post that they are able to give people a place to stay.
  • The site needs to be promoted via social media.

The actual implementation details were literally up to the collective group. They started out by telling us to gather voluntarily into three groups:

  • Promotion
  • Transportation Coordination
  • Housing Coordination

Watch DrupalCon developers develop the Help4OK website (Andress comes in at 3:28, and is the one speaking at the whiteboard):

I chose the transportation coordination group, and was the first one to the designated meeting area for the group. Since I was the first one there, people gathered around me and it was apparent that no one really had any idea where to begin or what to do (myself included).
After about a dozen people showed up, I started talking, and ended up leading the group. I started out by moving us to a more conducive location in the meeting hall, and then facilitated (and sometimes moderated) the discussion.
Additionally, I assumed the responsibility of basic storyboarding. After meeting and discussing what we all thought was the best course of action for about an hour, I presented to the entire room what our thoughts and strategies were. Because of this, I became the recognized leader and point person for the ride coordination group.
From about 10 p.m. Tuesday until about 4 a.m. Wednesday, I was coordinating with the other groups, seeing what we could share so that no one was duplicating any work, ensuring our vision of the overall layout of the site was consistent with everyone else’s, giving people work to do, and ensuring all facets of our section of the site was being planned and worked on.
At around 3 a.m. or so, we were down to about a dozen people. At this point, everyone had something to do and was doing it. The real leaders of the conference, headed by a guy from Acquia named Bryan Hirsch, were working on Drupal VOIP integration. I was the only person in the ride coordination group who was not actually coding at that time, so I was finally able to stop running around and coordinating things and actually start writing code.
I worked with Bryan and Leo (the VOIP module developer!) to get some loose specifications for what the VOIP integration needed with respect to the ride module. I wrote the prototype code for the ride module integration with the VOIP module abstraction layer (which is what Bryan and Leo were working on), and finalized and tested it with the ride group’s main module developer, Carson Black.
At around 8 a.m., we had a semi-functional prototype. The focus shifted at that point to UX implementation and QA testing. I decided to take a break around noon because it was hard to focus and I didn’t feel like I was helping the people who were doing the work (some of whom had slept and come back). After lunch, I sat in on one of the BOF DrupalCon meetings, but was literally falling asleep in the middle of it.
I decided that these meetings weren’t going to work since they were putting me to sleep, so I reconnected with the group around 2 p.m. or so Wednesday and continued to help test, debug, log issues and develop as needed. This went on until I had to pack and get ready to go to the airport, which ended up being just a little after 7 p.m. on Wednesday. At that time, some of the FEMA suits were also there, helping us test and telling us what, at a minimum, needed to changed or implemented.
The goal of our work was to create a basic and minimalist site that was dedicated to the facilitation of people helping people in Oklahoma in the wake of the recent tornado. After we, the DrupalCon devs, finished what we’re doing, it was to be handed over to FEMA.
Brian Andress is a software engineer with Mindgrub, and brings five years of experience to Mindgrub’s software engineering team. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in business information technology and minors in math and leadership. Brian enjoys software development, hardware assembly and unit testing.

Companies: Mindgrub / Google

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